ELEC­TRIC AV­ENUE

Bat­tery-pow­ered cars are fi­nally on the way, but some will in­ex­pli­ca­bly have a warmer re­cep­tion than oth­ers.

Torque (Singapore) - - VOLKSWAGEN SPECIAL -

THE sec­ond phase of the Ve­hic­u­lar Emis­sions Scheme (VES) – which takes ef­fect from July 1 – will in­clude fine par­tic­u­late mat­ter (PM) as a pol­lu­tant. PM will, along with four other pol­lu­tants, de­ter­mine how much tax re­bate or sur­charge a car at­tracts.

Like now, cars will be judged ac­cord­ing to their worstper­form­ing pol­lu­tant level. Specif­i­cally, for PM, the VES as of now stip­u­lates an emis­sion level of zero. In other words, for a car to qual­ify for the top-tier re­bate of $20,000, it can­not pro­duce any par­tic­u­late mat­ter at all from its tailpipe.

Cur­rently, only pure elec­tric cars can do that. Which ex­plains why mo­tor com­pa­nies are start­ing to bring in a slew of bat­tery-pow­ered mod­els. Th­ese in­clude the Hyundai Ioniq Elec­tric, Re­nault Zoe Long

Range and Volk­swa­gen e-Golf.

Jaguar and Tesla are also ex­pected to join the fray. BMW, the first to sell elec­tric cars here, will also bring in the re­vamped i3. But how well th­ese cars per­form in the show­room will de­pend on a few things. Cer­tainly, like all cars, the ap­peal of an elec­tric car will hinge on its at­trac­tive­ness – from its styling, pric­ing, prac­ti­cal­ity, to its per­for­mance. Per­for­mance, in this case, will in­clude range. That is, how far an elec­tric car can go on a sin­gle full charge.

In most other mar­kets, cars from Tesla and BMW will rank quite high on the at­trac­tive­ness scale. They look good, are as prac­ti­cal as con­ven­tional-fuel cars, and are packed with high per­for­mance. As for how far they can go on a charge, Tesla boasts of mod­els which can cover 400 kilo­me­tres, while the lat­est i3 can do more than 180 kilo­me­tres. In many other mar­kets, a car such as the Tesla Model S will ap­peal to many who are look­ing for a pre­mium ve­hi­cle. A Model S costs less than an equiv­a­lent Porsche Panam­era in the US. Both cars are of a sim­i­lar size, and pro­vide sim­i­lar per­for­mance. Which ex­plains why the Model S is a com­mon sight on the streets of Los Angeles and San Fran­cisco.

But will it do as well here, as­sum­ing the brand makes a come­back? Prob­a­bly not. In Sin­ga­pore, even with a $20,000 VES re­bate, a Model S is likely to cost more than an equiv­alant Panam­era.

Not only that, a vari­ant like the P85D will at­tract an an­nual road tax of over $11,000 – nearly thrice the an­nual amount for a Panam­era.

So, in three years’ time, the Model S owner would have ex­pended his VES sav­ings on road tax.

Not so for a model like the Hyundai Ioniq Elec­tric. The bat­tery-pow­ered Hyundai would prob­a­bly have the same level of at­trac­tive­ness as a mass-mar­ket 1.6-litre fam­ily sedan as far as styling, pric­ing, prac­ti­cal­ity and per­for­mance go.

But its road tax will only be a lit­tle over $1000 – in the same ball­park as a con­ven­tional 1.6-litre.

This is be­cause the road tax cal­cu­la­tion for elec­tric cars is based on the ve­hi­cle’s power out­put, as well as a fac­tor that takes into ac­count the car­bon foot­print as­so­ci­ated with the dis­tri­bu­tion of elec­tric­ity to charge it up.

Hence a car like the Tesla Model S P85D, with a de­clared power out­put of over 500kW,

THE VER­DICT IS STILL OUT ON HOW CLEAN OR EF­FI­CIENT ELEC­TRIC CARS AC­TU­ALLY ARE.

draws a pro­hib­i­tively high road tax. The Hyundai Ioniq Elec­tric, with 88kW, is taxed lightly. Both cars are pretty much at the ex­treme ends of a wide spec­trum. So, the com­mer­cial vi­a­bil­ity of a par­tic­u­lar elec­tric model in Sin­ga­pore will de­pend much on which end it leans to­wards. And not just how at­trac­tive it is as a car, or how ef­fi­cient it is. The other rea­son why low­er­pow­ered choices are more likely to take off lies in the VES re­bate and its rel­a­tive value to the price of a car. Clearly, $20,000 will be a pretty big deal to a buyer of an Ioniq Elec­tric, which is ex­pected to cost be­low $140,000. But $20,000 is rather in­signif­i­cant to a buyer of the Model S, which starts from around $400,000.

There is no wrong or right in the way road tax is levied on such cars. The power rat­ing is a proxy for en­gine dis­place­ment in a fos­sil-fuel car. But there has to be a way to also fac­tor in the in­di­rect car­bon emis­sions of bat­tery­pow­ered cars. The Gov­ern­ment has cho­sen a rather in­el­e­gant way – through road tax. By the same to­ken, it is the same way the spe­cial tax is levied on diesel taxis – to re­flect the higher mileage clocked by cabs. The more kilo­me­tres a ve­hi­cle chalks, the more pol­lu­tants it emits.

Un­for­tu­nately, this means lesser cars – as far as per­for­mance is con­cerned – will pro­lif­er­ate here. This is sim­i­lar to how the COE power band­ing is paving the way for cars with less ad­vanced en­gines to pop­u­late the roads here. Any­thing with more than 97kW or 130hp is placed in Cat­e­gory B – no mat­ter how tiny the en­gine is. Cat B is a smaller COE quota, and its pre­mi­ums are usu­ally higher than Cat A, where the bulk of cer­tifi­cates re­side.

Still, go­ing by how the ver­dict is still out on how clean or ef­fi­cient elec­tric cars ac­tu­ally are, Sin­ga­pore’s cau­tious treat­ment is not to­tally un­war­ranted.

VW and BMW will be sell­ing their lat­est elec­tric mod­els here.

Hyundai’s Ioniq Elec­tric and Re­nault’s Zoe (be­low) are bat­tery­pow­ered new­com­ers to the Sin­ga­pore car mar­ket.

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