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Tesla Founder Elon Musk says Singapore has been unwelcome following earlier incident of LTA levying a surcharge of a Model S

Telsa founder & CEO Elon Musk tweeted that the Singapore government has been unwelcome to Tesla Inc. in a response to a tweet asking why his car company isn’t in Singapore.

Musk is of course alluding to his previous assertion that the government doesn’t support electric vehicles. Back in 2016, the Singapore Land Transport Authority (LTA) imposed a $15,000 carbon surcharge on a Tesla Model S that was imported into the country by a businessman. The car, which was first registered in Hong Kong in 2014, was then shipped out to Singapore.

While the Tesla Model S qualifies for tax breaks in most countries as it is an electric vehicle, in Singapore this Tesla was slapped with a hefty carbon surcharge instead. Elon Musk was made aware of the charge via social media. He then reached out to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong about the incident. A spokesperson for the PM in turn said that various agencies were looking into the matter.

In a statement issued by LTA, they noted that the Model S in question showed a power consumption of 444 watt-hour/km. This as well as the COS emission of 0.5g/watt-hour at power plants put the car’s emission at 222g/km. This is how it ended up in the $15,000 surcharge band of the Carbon Emissions-based Vehicle Scheme instead of a tax break.

According to Telsa Motors, the Model S’s actual energy consumption was rated at a lower 181 watt-hour/km when it left the factory in 2014. However, LTA contended that since the car was not new, there’s no way to know how much the condition might have deteriorated, resulting it is being low enough on the carbon emission scale to qualify for a surcharge.

LTA also emphasised that while the Model S doesn’t use petrol, it still requires charging via electricity and in Singapore, electricity is still generated using fossil fuels – so the car isn’t really carbon free. That is why the carbon surcharge is maintained for all vehicles. LTA ended by saying that they will work with Tesla engineers to look further into the case.

This is could be one example of what Musk meant when he said the Singapore government has been unwelcome. When prompted by another user about Singapore’s reliance on fossil fuels and their stance against electric vehicles, Mr Musk said that Singapore is actually capable of being energy-independent.

Now, Singapore is a small country so they do take measures to limit the number of cars on the road. They’ve poured a lot of time and money into improving the public transportation system and encouraging people to use public transport over private vehicles.

The governments Vehicular Emissions Scheme (VES) assess vehicles based on pollutants, imposing a surcharge based on the type and amount of emissions the vehicle produces. On top of that, there’s the Certificate of Entitlement (COE) which represents the right to vehicle ownership and use of the limited road space for 10 years. For this, car owners will have go through a competitive bidding process that occurs twice a month. Basically, the government controls the number of new vehicles allowed for registration per month.

However, the COE doesn’t distinguish a petrol car from an electric car, charging the same for both. So while the VES looks at the type of pollution, Singapore’s COE system doesn’t bother whether a new car is electric or petrol.

This is one of the reasons why the uptake on electric vehicles is still so slow in Singapore, says Dr Sanjay Kuttan of the Energy Research Institute. When speaking to Today Online in June 2018 about the obstacles that are keeping electric car sales down, Dr Kuttan questioned the government’s commitment to encouraging the shift from petrol-run cars to the more eco-friendly electric cars. A lack of charging stations is only part of the problem. He said, “With the Government spending millions to encourage public transportation, how can you have policies that support private car uptake?”

That’s a valid point, and one that Elon Musk clearly agrees with.