By now you would have known about the Tesla Model S hoo-ha in Singapore recently. Essentially, a private owner attempted to self-import a Tesla Model S here and was faced with numerous roadblocks as the authorities were stumped on how to legislate this electric car. Here’s a quick summary of what you need to know thus far and moving forward.

1) The authorities grapple with the nature of electric cars

Electric cars have been on general sale in other countries for years now, but they have yet to take off here in Singapore. As the Tesla episode shows, it appears that the authorities are still not prepared on how to truly tackle the issue, as electric cars are significantly different from regular cars. From things such as inspections, to determining emissions, as well as how to tax them, there doesn’t seem to be a clear signal from the authorities on how they want to handle the problem. It’s a curveball that has got everyone stumped here.


Tesla Model S showroom in Paris, France.  

2) The local infrastructure for electric cars is not ready yet

One would think Singapore’s small size and mostly urban landscape would make it an ideal place for electric cars to thrive but that hasn’t been the case. It boils down to the lack of infrastructure that electric cars are required to operate. Electric cars need to be charged via charging points. There are currently a few charging points in some shopping malls and industrial estates but their reach is not extensive enough to encourage widespread adoption of electric cars. Also, with the majority of the population living in public housing, there remains the question of how such an owner is going to charge his car at a HDB carpark when he gets home.

3) ‘Green’ cars get rebates, subject to approval

In Singapore, if your car is ‘green’ enough, you get a rebate off from your car’s Additional Registration Fee (ARF), ranging from $5,000 to $30,000, under the Carbon Emissions-based Vehicle Scheme (CEVS). It swings the other way too, cars with high emissions are hit with a surcharge of the same amounts. The problem is, how do you determine whether a car is green or not? For ‘normal’ cars, this is judged from the CO2 emissions from the exhaust tailpipe. However, a different formula is used for fully-electric cars, which emit zero carbon emissions. As the LTA has mentioned, some electric cars like BMW’s i3 qualify for the full $30,000 rebate but bizarrely for the Tesla Model S, it has deemed it to be pollutive enough to incur a $15,000 surcharge. To be fair, they have since backtracked and said that they will relook the formula, but it still boggles the mind nonetheless.

4) Apparently a one-year-old used car is vastly different from a new car

According to the LTA, this particular Tesla Model S that was in the news incurred the $15,000 surcharge as it was imported as a used car, having been sold as new in Hong Kong in 2014. It adds that had the Tesla been imported as new, it would have qualified for a rebate. As they have stated, This is because the emissions and fuel efficiency of a used car, unlike a new car, can vary significantly depending on its prevailing condition, how it was previously driven and maintained.” The thing is, how did they come to a conclusion that a one-year-old car has deteriorated to the extent that is swings from a rebate to a surcharge? Greater clarity is needed here to explain the discrepancy.

5) You can self-import a Tesla. You just have to wait for a long time

One of the things highlighted from the Tesla incident is how long it takes for the authorities to test a self-imported car before determining that it is safe to be driven on the roads. According to the Tesla’s owner, the car took up to six months before it was approved, and spent a lot of time just sitting around as the relevant departments tried to figure out what to do with it. For a supposedly efficient country like Singapore, that seems extremely out of the ordinary, and while going forward the process might be streamlined, for now this is what you should expect at the minimum if you decide to import your very own Tesla.

6) You could possibly get a Tesla officially soon

Tesla Model S being charged at Tesla Supercharger station in Paimio, Finland. Charging the battery from 10 to 80 percent takes about 40 minutes.

Tesla themselves in America have been made aware of this incident, and they have reached out to our authorities for clarification over the whole issue. The company themselves are no strangers to Singapore, and indeed have actually attempted to enter our market once back in 2011. Unfortunately, they pulled out after a few months, having not sold a single car, after the authorities determined that their cars would not qualify for any green vehicle rebates which made it unviable for them to sell cars here at reasonable prices. Tesla has recently hinted that it may consider entering our market again, should talks with our authorities turn favourable. Do keep your eye out for them.

7) Things could be changing for electric cars in Singapore


White Tesla model S car charging at the EV public recharging station in Rome, Italy. 

After the publicity this issue has gotten on social media, there has been a lot of discussion over the future of automotive technology in Singapore. At the time the story broke, our Prime Minister was visiting in the US, and the incident was brought up in a meeting with Tesla’s founder Elon Musk. Since then, the authorities have been tasked to further investigate the situation, to see if the relevant processes could be refined and improved. It’s still early days yet, but hopefully there could be smoother roads ahead for electric cars like the Tesla or even possibly for an exciting new player like Faraday Future that has been testing “mules” for over a year now