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Electric car population surges 380% in 2017
COULD 2018 be an electrifying year for cars in Singapore? Falling prices and new models from various car makers could propel battery power into the mainstream, after car-sharing companies and BMW's electrified iPerformance range helped the sales of such cars to surge in 2017.
Electrified vehicles refer to plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and cars that run only on battery power.
A PHEV combines a fossil fuel engine with a battery-driven motor, and typically has a smaller battery for electric-only trips of up to 50 km, before switching to petrol for longer distances. Battery powered electric vehicles (BEVs), also known as fully-electric vehicles (EVs), are powered solely by an onboard battery, and need to be charged to run.
As at the end of last year, there were 520 such cars in Singapore, a sharp increase of 380 per cent from only 137 at the close of 2016. Of the 383 electrified vehicles that joined the car population here last year, the majority (298 units) were registered by car-sharing services such as BlueSG.
The rest were made up of PHEVs and EVs from various car brands such as Mitsubishi and BMW. The latter accounted for 73 sales by itself. Such cars still make up only a tiny proportion of cars on the road here, at just 0.09 per cent of the 574,443 passenger cars in 2017.
"We believe the sales figures imply Singaporeans are still open to considering EVs and PHEVs, which is a move in the right direction. At the same time, it indicates that we still have a very long way to go before there is significant adoption in Singapore," said Preeti Gupta, director of corporate affairs for BMW Group Asia.
BMW was among the first major car makers to go big on electrification, both around the world and in Singapore. In 2014, it was the first car maker to offer electrified vehicles for sale here, with its i3 electric city car, and the i8 plug-in hybrid sports coupe.
In September last year, it was the first to offer a full range of PHEVs in Singapore, marketing plug-in hybrid versions of five models under the iPerformance Automobiles sub-brand.
Globally, the German premium marque met a sales target of 100,000 electrified cars last year, and said that it has a 10 per cent market share for such vehicles.
Yet, even as BMW enjoys a headstart, the race to put electrified cars on the road is heating up this year.
The first BEV from a mass-market brand was launched by Hyundai at the Singapore Motorshow on Jan 11. The Ioniq Electric is priced at S$149,988 with COE, and boasts a battery range of 280 km.
It costs an estimated S$2.90 to cover 100 km in an Ioniq Electric, while the same distance would cost around five times as much in a petrol car. Komoco Motors, the car's importer, estimates that after three years of ownership, the low running costs of the Ioniq would outweigh the higher upfront costs of buying one, compared to a regular sedan.
Renault will put BEV ownership within even easier reach when it launches the Zoe, a compact hatchback that is currently undergoing approval for local sale. It has a quoted range of 400 km and is expected to be priced around S$130,000 with COE.
Nissan showcased its second-generation Leaf BEV hatchback at the Singapore Motorshow, as well.
"It's not a question of 'if' but 'when'," Ron Lim, head of sales and marketing at Nissan distributor Tan Chong Motors, told The Business Times, when asked if the Leaf would go on sale in Singapore.
In the luxury segment, Mercedes-Benz will offer plug-in versions of two of its most popular sedans, the C 350 e and E 350 e. Porsche plans to sell six different plug-in hybrid versions of its Panamera, which includes the most powerful model available, the range-topping 680 hp Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid.
BMW intends to roll out a sportier version of the i3, the i3 S, as well a convertible version of the i8, the i8 Roadster.
While car makers put more electrified models on sale, however, there are hurdles for the industry to overcome. The perennial problem of where to charge an EV or PHEV is still a concern for some drivers.
"The lower cost per km, compared to petrol, is quite attractive to someone like me who drives a lot - but the initial cost, the charging time and availability of charging stations are still big issues," said Adrian Mah, 38, an insurance agent who currently drives a Japanese sedan.
The current public charging network is still nascent. Greenlots, a service provider, currently has 50 stations at 31 locations, while the charging network used by EV sharing company BlueSG, will only partially be open to the public. For now, that restricts EV and PHEV sales largely to private property owners who are able to install their own chargers.
Yet, what is happening in Singapore is part of an accelerating trend towards electrification elsewhere. BMW says that by 2020, it will expand its range to offer 25 electrified cars, while arch-rival Mercedes-Benz intends to produce an electrified version of every model it sells by 2022. This week, Ford announced plans to make 40 such vehicles available within the same timeframe.
Perhaps the industry's push for electrification will help to address what is still a chicken-and-egg problem in Singapore: there are too few charging stations, but too few electrified cars to justify building more.
With buyers able to choose from at least 10 more electrified cars this year, at least the car industry is busy laying its eggs.