SINGAPORE: Though appliance maker Dyson may have scuttled its plans for an electric car plant in Singapore, the electric vehicle (EV) population here continues to slowly but surely charge ahead.
Figures from the Land Transport Authority (LTA) show there were 1,036 fully electric cars on the road as of September this year. This is up from just 12 three years ago.
Plug-in hybrids - which differ from conventional hybrid vehicles in that they have larger batteries which can be charged, allowing many models to run purely on electricity for as far as 30km - number 447, up from 125 in 2016.
Yet despite this jump, electric cars make up a small proportion – just 0.16 per cent – of the 628,816 cars on the road.
Even if their numbers were combined with those of plug-in hybrids, which number 447, it would still only make up about 0.2 per cent of the total car population.
EVs make up about 2 per cent of the total car population worldwide, though this number is increasing.
A study by Bloomberg New Energy Finance earlier this year suggests that as many as 57 per cent of all vehicles sold worldwide will be electric by 2040, driven by declining battery prices.
Leading the charge at the moment is Norway, where around 10 per cent of the vehicle population is electric. In China, 1.2 million electric vehicles were sold last year - half of all the EVs sold.
In both countries the growth was spurred by significant financial incentives from the authorities.
Meanwhile in Singapore, petrol-driven cars still make up the majority of cars on the road, numbering 575,493.
There is no mystery about the lack of popularity of electric vehicles here, said Associate Professor Walter Theseira, who heads the master of urban transport management programme at the Singapore University of Social Sciences.
"It’s the absolute unavailability of home charging for anyone except landed property residents with their own car park space."
The increase in the number of electric cars has largely been driven by fleets, rather than individual owners. More than half of the local electric car population belongs to car-sharing firm BlueSG, which has about 530 electric vehicles in its fleet.
Ride-hailing giant Grab says it has rolled out about 90 per cent - around 180 cars - of its total fleet of 200 fully electric Hyundai Konas.
Other companies such as HDT - which also operates Singapore’s only all-electric taxi fleet, with 129 vehicles - also rent out their electric cars for use by private-hire car services.
A switch to EVs could help Singapore significantly cut its level of emissions, as private cars make up more than a third of emissions by the transport sector, according to the National Climate Change Secretariat.
In 2016, the electro-mobility roadmap developed by the Nanyang Technological University’s Energy Research Institute @ NTU (ERIAN) suggested that EVs could cut Singapore’s emissions by as much as 30 per cent.
This could go up to as high as a 64 per cent cut in emissions if the electricity were to come from clean sources such as solar.
ELECTRIC VEHICLES TOO EXPENSIVE?
One reason for the slow take-up could be cost.
Car dealer Hong Seh Motors currently carries three models of Tesla cars, probably the best-known electric vehicles on the market.
All cost upwards of S$400,000 – more than four times the price of a popular model like the Volkswagen Golf.
Even cheaper models like the Hyundai Ioniq or the Nissan Leaf cost about S$140,000 – more than 30 per cent costlier than a petrol equivalent.
“What customers do not see is that the total cost of ownership is lower,” said ERIAN executive director Subodh Mhaisalkar.
This is because the cost of electricity per kilometre is much cheaper than that of petrol, he noted. Greater rebates for electric cars could help boost their popularity here, he said.
MORE CHARGING STATIONS NEEDED
The number of charging points in Singapore is slowly increasing.
Utilities provider SP Group has 200 charging points islandwide. By the end of next year, it will have 1,000 such points, 250 of which will be direct current fast-chargers which can bring a car to full-charge in half an hour.
BlueSG has more than 1,000 charging points islandwide, of which about 100 are available for electric vehicles other than its own.
The firm, a subsidiary of the French-based Bollore Group, had previously announced that 20 per cent of the 2,000 charging points it will have by next year will be available to other electric vehicles.
Fossil fuel companies are also moving into the market.
Dutch firm Shell will have electric vehicle charging points at 10 of its petrol stations here.
Its subsidiary Greenlots – acquired by Shell in January – has more than 100 charging stations islandwide.
Yet this is still not enough to see adoption of EVs here on a larger scale, say experts.
“The biggest barrier is anyone who doesn’t live in a landed property cannot think about buying an EV,” said Professor Subodh, noting condominiums are also unlikely to allow for chargers to be installed.
“You won’t buy what would be an expensive road decoration if you can’t guarantee having a charging point,” said Assoc Prof Theseira.
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Prof Subodh, who drives a plug-in hybrid, says these vehicles may be able to act as a gateway to EVs, as they can ease the “range anxiety” motorists may face when choosing whether or not to buy electric cars.
“I think electrification is the future of urban mobility,” said Assoc Prof Theseira. “But it may not be the time to push private passenger cars yet. I think we will get larger gains from the public vehicle fleet first.”
He notes that a mass electrification of vehicles may take some time, as the electrical infrastructure may not be able to support large numbers of vehicles all charging at the same time.
“If all cars start charging at Orchard Road, we’ll have a problem,” said Prof Subodh, describing it as a “challenging question”.