Elon Musk’s point about electric cars in Singapore misses the point completely

By June 7, 2018Current

TL;DR – More important that we keep the number of cars low.

There was a sort of Twitter war between Elon Musk and Straits Times. It started when someone tweeted Elon Musk to “do something to allow us in Singapore to get a Tesla”.

Elon replied:

“We tried, but Singapore govt is not supportive of electric vehicles”

That prompted Straits Times senior transport correspondent Christopher Tan to write an article essentially telling Elon Musk to stop whining. Elon Musk promptly replied:

“The results speak for themselves. Singapore is a very prosperous city yet has very few electric cars”

Elon Musk’s reply to Straits Times. 

Elon’s reply was empty and meaningless

What a presumptuous reply! So what if there are very few electric cars in Singapore? Since when has the number of electric cars in a city been a measure of the quality of life of the city? Why should we care whether there are many electric cars in a city?

Instead of simply replying with such a meaningless tweet, shouldn’t Elon Musk explain the benefits of having electric cars? Or at the very least, explain what he means when he says that the Singapore government isn’t supportive of electric vehicles.

Because Elon Musk is completely wrong when he said that the Singapore government isn’t supportive of electric vehicles. Here are three pieces of evidence to show why Elon Musk is wrong.

What Elon Musk said was factually inaccurate…

First, in December 2017, an electric car sharing programme with 30 charging stations and 80 electric cars was launched in Singapore. That happened after BlueSG, a subsidiary of French conglomerate Bollore Group, signed an agreement with the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the Economic Development Board in June 2016. The programme will see 1,000 electric cars being deployed in stages.

Second, in 2016, the LTA granted a temporary Taxi Service Operator Licence (TSOL) to HDT Singapore Taxi to operate 100 electric cabs. HDT applied in January 2018 to add another 800 electric taxis. While there’s still no news about whether LTA has approved HDT’s application, you can still see HDT’s electric cabs plying the roads of Singapore.

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Last, NTU and Volvo Buses  have teamed up to develop driverless electric buses. To expedite the development of  that technology, Singapore has built a mini town. The 2-hectare complex, unveiled in November, has intersections, traffic lights, bus stops and pedestrian crossings, all built to the specifications that Singapore uses for its public roads. There’s a mini hill to check how vehicle sensors perform when they can’t see directly ahead, mock skyscrapers to mimic the radio interference from tall buildings and a rain machine to simulate the island’s frequent tropical downpours.

Actually, there’s one more thing that our government is doing to show that we support electric vehicles. We are extending our MRT lines. That means we need to get more trains. And all of our trains are… you guessed it… electric. In other words, our government has long ago been committed in using electric vehicles.

Now if our government isn’t supportive of electric vehicles, would we be doing all of those things?

And he completely misunderstands our government’s priorities

Sure. None of the things that the government is doing supports personal ownership of motor vehicles. But all of the things that the government is doing when it comes to electric vehicles fit a common theme – reduce (or at least control) the number of privately owned vehicles on the road.

As it stands, the number of motor vehicles compared to the population in Singapore is relatively low. There are 149 motor vehicles per 1000 people in Singapore. In contrast, there are 797 motor vehicles per 1000 people in US, 717 motor vehicles per 1000 people in Australia, 591 motor vehicles per 1000 people in Japan. We are worse off than Hong Kong, which has only 77 motor vehicles per 1000 people.

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So the focus is on doing things required to reduce (or at least maintain) the number of motor vehicles on the road. That, and not encouraging or supporting people to own electric vehicles, is the priority of the government now. And I think that’s the right move.

So what Elon Musk is really saying is that he’s sore that the Singapore government isn’t supporting Singaporeans to own his high performance electric cars that only the super rich can afford. Boohoo for him. But if he needs that sort of government support for Tesla to succeed, then Tesla is bound to be a massive failure. And he’ll have no one else to blame but himself.

Our government isn’t obliged to help Tesla succeed. Our government is obliged to improve our quality of life. And I think they are on the right track. At least when it comes to managing the number of vehicles on our roads.


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Author CRC

Working on a startup is a scary crazy process. To destress, I write random stuff.

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Join the discussion One Comment

  • kaggyx says:

    This is how i look at it.
    1. BlueSG is to cover for the failure of PMDs and bike share, overcrowded and broken MRT system.
    2. Developing electric buses. (Developing, i’ve seen develop so many times)
    3. What Tesla sells are mostly private electric cars which indeed Singapore was not very supportive until recently
    4. Why not full electric in 2017? https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/transport/50-volvo-hybrid-buses-to-be-rolled-out

    The government is way behind in implementing these initiatives until the MRT became a problem, it is starting to open up because there are other problem and not because the government wanted to.

    Singapore had major advantage of having an enormous bus fleet which are purchased by the government but it did not happen and here are some of my guesses
    – Non-electric buses are cheaper (Singapore’s lowest bid process)
    – Costs of upkeep all depends on bus vendors

    The main reason Singapore doesn’t go full electric is cause we refine a large amount of petroleum, it is as easy as that.

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