SINGAPORE — South China Morning Post (SCMP) published an interview with a civil servant, Lee Jun Hao, 28, on Saturday (13 May), who was lamenting the current high certificate of entitlement (COE) prices in Singapore.
Lee told SCMP that for two years, he had been patiently tracking the price of COE to buy a car. Owning one was a “luxury”, he recognised, but it would save him time commuting and be better suited for his family to move around.
But Lee’s ownership dreams were punctured when COE surpassed $100,000 for a small-COEsize car before even factoring in the cost of buying the car itself.
“I’ve been on the lookout for a suitable car. However, inflation is getting higher and the cost of living – especially the prices of cars – is getting higher too,” Lee said.
“For the city state’s burgeoning middle class, this is yet another cause for disillusionment, as other emblems of the ‘Singapore Dream’, including the ability to climb up the property ladder, become increasingly hard to attain,” commented SCMP.
In Singapore, anyone who wants to own a vehicle must bid for a COE, a system introduced in 1990 to limit the number of vehicles on the road. Each COE is classified based on the vehicle type and is valid for ten years.
The latest COE prices (1st bidding) for small and big cars in May are $101,001 and $119,399, respectively. Accordingly, a new low-end Toyota Corolla is presently going for $164,000, or about half the price of a new 4-room BTO flat sold at a non-mature estate.
Singaporeans who spoke to SCMP said that surging COE prices had made car ownership “impossible for the middle class”.
“The car I owned last time was a Mercedes, but when I went to look around for a new car recently, I realised that with the same budget I could only afford a Toyota Corolla” model released eight years ago, said Dylan Tan, a hotel sales director.
The upper-price limit for a 2023 edition of the five-seater sedan stunned Tan. “Who would spend $200,000 on a Toyota Corolla?” he asked. Indeed, according to Sgcarmart, a high-end Toyota Corolla Altis Hybrid 1.8 (A) now sells for $214,000.
Another Singaporean, Zack Khoo, 38, said he now has to consider getting a motorcycle. “If cars continue to get more expensive, I’ll probably just go for a motorbike,” he said. “But in the event that I get married and have a family, I would want to get a car instead.”
Meanwhile, Transport Minister S Iswaran told Parliament on Monday (8 May) that COE premiums are likely to continue going up due to the rising household incomes in Singapore.
“As household incomes continue to rise in the coming years, coupled with our policy of zero-growth in the car population, we must expect the long-term trajectory for COE prices to be upwards,” said the minister.
According to Johnny Yeo, the vice-president of the Singapore Vehicle Traders Association, COE prices are unlikely to change much in the long run. “The COE will stay put at least at around $100,000,” he said.
No more 5Cs for Singaporeans
It looks like having the 5Cs – cash, credit card, car, condo and country club membership – as espoused by former PM Goh Chok Tong is increasingly unattainable by the new generation of Singaporeans.
In 2010, Goh once said that many young Singaporeans are well educated and have a good chance of attaining the 5Cs provided they worked hard.
He then challenged them to go further, to think of their community. “At this stage of Singapore’s development, should we still be spinning this same dream of five Cs? Should we not rethink our priorities? Should our young not aim at something different, something more meaningful, a life more fulfilling?” he asked.
“I am not suggesting that material goods are not important or that there is anything wrong with chasing after the five Cs. But the five Cs should not be our end goals.”
He mentioned young Singaporeans seeking more rounded lives, which embrace sports, the arts and a good work-life balance. Some left well-paying jobs to pursue their passions. Others were active in non-governmental organisations, such as those involved in humanitarian and green issues.
Indeed, now that the dream of having 5Cs is almost out of reach for young Singaporeans, it’s not known how many will start to think about their community instead of themselves.