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Shifting electric cars into the fast lane

Nurdianah Md Nur
Nurdianah Md Nur • 10 min read
Shifting electric cars into the fast lane
The Audi Q8 e-tron 55 has a range of up to 600 km, which is sufficient for the day-to-day needs of drivers in Singapore. Photo: Audi
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Electric vehicles (EVs) have been taking centre stage at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) for the past few years and 2024 is no different. Although automotive manufacturers continually expand their selection of EVs and accelerate EV development, electric cars have yet to become the norm on Singapore’s roads.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) reported that EVs accounted for only 20.4% of total passenger cars on the road in July 2023. The government has been a major driver of EV uptake in Singapore. It is giving out potential incentives of up to $40,000 per electric car through the EV Early Adoption incentive and existing rebates for cars under the Vehicular Emissions Scheme (VES) Band A1. It is also committed to installing 40,000 EV charging points in public carparks by 2030 to resolve charging accessibility concerns.

“Addressing both upfront purchase costs and charging infrastructure concerns has led to reasonable success in promoting EV adoption in Singapore. These buyer incentives are similar to other EV-leading nations,” says Sharad Somani, partner and head of KPMG ESG at KPMG in Singapore.

Held back by range anxiety

Among the top barriers to EV adoption is range anxiety, which refers to a driver’s fear that their electric car will not have enough battery charge to reach their destination and they will not be able to find a charging point on time.

The driving range of an EV car is up to four times lower than that of an equivalent internal combustion engine (ICE) car before requiring a recharge. An extensive network of EV charging points is therefore key for EVs’ viability, but there is a lack of charging stations in Singapore.

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The overall EV adoption impacts the commercial viability of EV charging operators. This is a ‘chicken-and-egg dilemma’ where potential EV buyers are waiting for more EV chargers to be installed before making their purchase, while EV charging operators are waiting for higher EV adoption before expanding their network.

Sharad Somani, partner and head of KPMG ESG, KPMG in Singapore

To make the situation more challenging, building a charging network and ensuring the reliability of charging stations is no easy feat.

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“Construction of charging stations, especially in the heartlands, will take time and significantly more investment. This is because other infrastructures are also involved in the construction of charging stations, such as the electrical power grid and the safety of the building. In addition, EVs and charging station technology are constantly evolving and there is a lack of well-established standards,” explains Dr Teo Tee Hui, senior lecturer of Engineering Product Development at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD).

Justin Jia Kai Goh, strategy principal director for sustainability and net-zero transition at Accenture, echoes the same sentiment. “Particularly in the context of land-scarce Singapore, there are many considerations, such as space and locations with sufficient power for EV charging. Not to mention, EV charging tends to take up more time, which means more charging stations are required to meet demand and this may lend to the perception of the lack of charging points.”

Regulation, adds Goh, plays a big role too. “Last December, the EV Charging Act announced that new chargers need to be registered with LTA at a fee before they can be used, and commercial charging service operators have to pay to be licensed. Naturally, these would be a deterrent for charging points to be installed, and more so, given the private sector is expected to play a key role in the buildout,” he adds.

Fortunately, oil and gas companies recognise the need to support EV charging as Singapore plans to phase out ICE vehicles by 2040. Selected SPC and Shell petrol stations in Singapore have been fitted with EV charging stations, with the latter claiming that some of its chargers can charge as much as 50% of the battery on a Hyundai Ioniq 5 in about 15 minutes.

KPMG’s Somani expects this trend to continue. “Over time, existing petrol stations could potentially install electric charging points, but this is subject to grid constraints and applicable licensing. This transition could serve as a viable avenue for oil companies to enter the low-carbon and clean economy,” he says.

Automakers have also taken steps to ease range anxiety in EV users. In the case of Audi Singapore, it partnered with EV charging provider Charge+ to launch the Audi Destination Charging network. The network provides accessible and reliable charging at 38 points across 12 locations in Singapore today. Besides that, Audi’s newer EV models come with greater battery capacity to offer increased range.

“Our Audi Q8 e-tron 55, for example, has a range of up to 600 km, which is more than sufficient for the day-to-day needs of drivers in Singapore. Most drivers will be able to comfortably fulfil a week’s worth of driving needs on a single charge,” says Markus Schuster, Audi Singapore’s managing director.

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Cost concerns

Since the EV market is still nascent, the upfront cost of purchasing EVs is still high as compared to ICE vehicles. Accenture’s Goh shares that the premium prices of EVs are fundamentally due to the costs involved in making them, with batteries taking up almost a third of the cost.

KPMG's Somani adds: "While the price gap has narrowed over the years and financial incentives are available to defray upfront costs, supply chain and manufacturing capacity issues have impeded the cost decline of lithium-ion batteries. Overall, the production of ICE-based vehicles has reached economies of scale to which EVs will need to catch up."

“[Drivers intending to switch to electric cars are also concerned about] the cost of corrective maintenance such as the cost for repairs in the case of breakdown or accident, insurance cost, as well as the relatively poor resale value,” says Ron Lim, head of sales and marketing at Tan Chong Motor Sales, an exclusive distributor of Nissan.

Lim also highlights other challenges of EV adoption. “This includes the impact on our infrastructure like the power grid due to the higher charging needs to support more EVs, as well as roads and car parks because EVs are easily 1.5 to 2 times heavier than normal ICE models but most existing roads and carparks were not built with EVs in mind. [We must also consider] the environmental impact from the disposal demand of more and more batteries.”

EV battery advancements needed

Recognising that not everyone is ready for EVs, some automakers are offering hybrid car models to enable a gradual transition to fully electric cars. Nissan’s e-POWER technology, for example, allows drivers to experience a 100% electric drive without the need for plug-in charging.

Lim explains: “Equipped on these Nissan e-POWER models are compact and highly fuel-efficient petrol engines that act as generators to charge the battery that powers the vehicle. To ensure that the battery powering the Nissan e-POWER cars can be charged at all times, drivers just need to top up the petrol for the onboard engines, thus eliminating the need for plug-in charging. This opens the opportunity for more customers to experience full electric drive (even if they have reservations on EV) and lower their carbon footprint.”

While this works for now, mass adoption of full EVs must happen for Singapore to achieve its zero emissions climate goal. From a technology perspective, battery development will be critical to EV adoption. “A focus on advancing EV battery technology would be required for safer batteries and a faster charging process. This is important as batteries are the main energy source and risk for EVs,” asserts SUTD’s Teo.

Likewise, KPMG’s Somani believes advancements in battery technology will help address EV cost concerns and range anxiety. “Firstly, the market needs breakthroughs in battery technology with higher density and better-performing batteries. For example, the most recent batteries achieved an unprecedented energy density of 500 Wh/kg, transforming the perception of EV ranges,” he says.

He continues: “Secondly, the commercialisation of alternative battery technologies — incorporating alternative chemical components such as sodium and solid-state batteries — holds the potential to significantly impact costs and enhance safety. These advancements are expected to drive down costs, thus accelerating infrastructure development.

“Over the past decade, battery manufacturing costs have decreased by over 85% with projections indicating a further plunge below US$100/kWh [$134/kWh] by 2030. Government incentives have played a crucial role in initiating adoption and infrastructure development, setting the stage for a more cost-effective and widespread embrace of EVs.”

Accelerating the EV transition

According to Accenture’s Goh, Singapore’s neighbouring countries such as Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam are seeing higher EV adoption and market growth.

These countries realise the associated synergies needed for the EV agenda and have embedded efforts on this front into the nation’s priorities. This includes cutting across the regulatory framework and policies of economics and industrial growth, as well as social transformation (similar to the post-Covid “Build back Greener” movement)

Justin Jia Kai Goh, strategy principal director for sustainability and net-zero transition, Accenture

He believes the following three drivers must at least be at parity for EV adoption in Singapore to improve:

  • Cost parity: The total cost of EV ownership should be less than or the same as any of the ICE-vehicle options available in the market. Incentives, tax deductions, and environmental/ commodity tax are all powerful levers to steer and influence decisions.
  • Environmental parity: The total environmental footprint and impact of the product (across its lifecycle stages) should not contribute to further deterioration of our environment. While air pollution and carbon emissions have been receiving good scrutiny over the years, we should not lose sight of other environmental implications associated with metal and minerals.
  • Experience parity: Consumers are still looking for that seamless transportation or mobility experience. EV companies will need to think of new ways to recover from associated inconveniences such as battery charging and disposal. Different EV value chains also need to work in harmony to create a seamless experience. This effectively means standardisation, opening interoperability between EVs, charge points and power networks.

Audi’s Schuster agrees, especially on the last point. “Coordinated efforts among all stakeholders in the ecosystem, through the form of industry or cross-sector partnerships, will be key to driving the growth of EV adoption. Industry players in Singapore are already making a head start — the joint partnership between EV charging operators on the MyTransport.SG mobile app has made it more convenient for EV owners to locate charging points across Singapore.”

KPMG’s Somani adds: “To further drive EV adoption, Singapore can consider implementing complementary policies such as granting preferential licenses for EV ownership, reduced road tax, as well as discounted parking and toll fees. These measures could encourage prospective car owners to choose EVs over traditional ICE vehicles. However, it must be balanced with LTA’s overall car light vision. Allocating COE quota for EVs could also be considered to further enhance the attractiveness of electric cars in Singapore in the short term.”

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