Singapore’s Penalty for Electric Cars – The First Tesla Model S in Singapore

This open letter is republished with permission from the author, Joe Nguyen, on the frustrations he encountered trying to get the first Telsa Model S electric car into Singapore.


I am writing to you to highlight an ongoing issue I had trying to register a Tesla Model S in Singapore – the best electric car in the world. Let me start from the beginning.

I imported a secondhand Tesla Model S into Singapore in July 2015, thinking that since we are such a green and environmental conscious country, it would be welcomed. As it was the first of its kinds in Singapore, I expected to take a bit of time. The initial LTA required documents took about 2 months.

Then I was asked to speak to someone at the Energy Markets Authority(EMA), and I was not clear why. The person did not understand why I called at first and then explained that EMA looks after the national charging infrastructure. He wanted the specification of the charger that I would use at home, which I provided. This took a month chasing EMA to report to LTA whatever that was supposed to be reported.

Then LTA sent us to VICOM for inspection. VICOM sat on the car for a month as it gathered dust in Bukit Batok. I went to visit in early November, and they said they actually did not know what they were supposed to do with the car and what they were supposed to test. I got a hold of an LTA official on the case and told him that VICOM does not know what they are supposed to do. He says they are supposed to test for 1) Emissions and 2) efficiency. So I questioned the need for an emissions test since it is fully electric and there was no emissions. The reply was “Oh… Right….”. Then I asked the LTA official about the LTA standards for efficiency for an electric vehicle since it is not the usual kilometres per litre; I told him that the US Environmental Protection Agency has a standard for MPGe (Miles per gallon equivalent), but I do not see that anywhere on the LTA website. He says he will speak to VICOM and get it settled.

VICOM began testing. One of the tests was to drain the battery and charge it back up. So they drained the battery and then said my charger was not working. It took another trip to VICOM to realised that they took off the bumper and with all the connected sensors, the car would not allow charging if something was disconnected. Then it took a week to charge the car back up, because they unplugged it when they went home every evening. I asked them how they were going to do the efficiency test, and they said they would run the car for 11 km and then see how much electrical energy it would take to charge back up. And they showed me an old piece of equipment to measure the electrical energy and I just shook my head. VICOM testing was completed at the end of November so back to LTA.

LTA says that they need a letter from EMA saying that they are ok with my charger. I rang up EMA and asked them for this and he says he will talk to LTA. I was not sure what communications LTA and EMA had back in August, but it was not enough. That took a week to clear (early December by now).

Then LTA spent the next few weeks (into mid January) asking for more specifications including efficiency ratings and asking for the webpage with my model on it (Tesla does not keep specs of 2014 models on their site as they are trying to sell the latest model). Then LTA asked me to send in a declaration that the car “will only be used for home charging and will not use any of the existing public charging infrastructure”. I thought that was odd, but I plan to charge the car every night at home like a mobile phone anyways so I sent in the declaration.

Finally at the end of January, I got the approval to register the car, but then I got the shock! I was supposed to pay an Electric Vehicle Fine of $15,000 rather than an emissions rebate as outlined here. This is apparently because VICOM measured the efficiency of the car at 444 Wh/km, whereas the US EPA officially rated it at 237.5Wh/km. I appealed to the LTA Head of Inspections stating the above and that VICOM does not have the know-how or equipment to properly test the car. My request was denied. I went ahead and registered the car at the beginning of February.

So Singapore is the first country in the world that taxes/fines a Tesla car for CO2 emissions. There are 2,000 Tesla Model S in Hong Kong that are on the road tax free and with EV rebate, and the US and Europe offer rebates to every Tesla owner. In Singapore, not only did it take 7 months, but I am also fined.

“What’s so great about this car? It’s just a rich boy’s toy.” — The Tesla Model S is a game changer in the automotive industry. It is THE cutting edge on green, environmentally friendly vehicles. Besides my house, this is the most expensive thing I ever bought. I am doing it because I believe in what they do and their vision. Every one I talk to say this car is perfect for Singapore, except that Singapore LTA does not think so. I would like to extend an invitation to all of you out for a ride, and you will see what I mean.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is going to Silicon Valley next week to meet with, among other tech titans, Elon Musk – the Founder and CEO of Tesla Motors. He is doing this because Tesla is changing the world with their cars and the Powerwall, and Singapore is not helping. We are missing out on this revolution. Beside being “green”, Tesla Motors prides itself on clean, state-of-the-art robotic manufacturing, and Singapore has always had that edge over our lower labour market neighbours.

With the hope of getting Singapore on the right track, I hope you can bring this up in the Government and make LTA more forward looking. Within the last 7 months, there are so many Singaporeans I have met who are waiting to see how I progress because they want a Tesla too. I have had the car for less than a week, and the car is like a mini-celebrity – everyone wants to take a picture of it and with it. I am talking to a couple of journalists who want to do articles on it as they have heard so much about it and now they can experience one in real life.

Lastly, I would really like to have my case re-evaluated by LTA and hopefully get a refund on my EV fine.

Joe Nguyen

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