Tesla electric car penalised with $15000 carbon surcharge

From ‘Electric car Tesla slapped with $15000 tax surcharge’, 5 March 2016, article by Christopher Tan, ST

An electric car which attracts tax breaks in several countries has been slapped with a tax surcharge in Singapore. The Model S – a sedan made by California-based Tesla Motors – is the first tailpipe emission-free car to be penalised this way here.

Mr Joe Nguyen, 44, registered a used Model S he sourced from Hong Kong just before Chinese New Year. He was shocked that the car – for which he paid close to $400,000 – was liable for a $15,000 carbon surcharge.

“Honestly, it’s stupid,” said the senior vice-president with an Internet research firm. “I went back to them (Land Transport Authority), and they cited a UN emission test regulation. They also factored in carbon emissions at the power station. We don’t apply a carbon penalty to people charging their iPhones, do we?”

According to LTA, the Tesla uses 444 watt/hr per km, equivalent to 222g/km of carbon. You will only get rebates if your carbon emission is below 136g/km. In comparison, if you use the ICAO carbon footprint calculator to determine the amount spewed from a round trip between Singapore and Bangkok, you get a figure that is roughly a 1000 fold increase – 240kg of carbon per passenger. That’s excluding the taxi ride to and fro the airport. In other words, you need to drive a Tesla for 1000km before you can clock the same amount chugged out over a short holiday. How much carbon did we emit over the SG50 long weekend last year, I wonder. Alas, policy decisions made on the basis of CO2 emissions are never simple. You could avoid taking the car out on the weekend but end up guzzling electricity at home Netflixing on your giant 48 inch Smart TV, snacking on smoked salmon flown all the way from Norway to your coffee table. Your very mundane existence is itself a strain on the carbon budget.

Before we saw carbon in a different light, beyond its presence in fizzy drinks and the fact that we excrete it out and trees suck it back in, electric cars were seen as the panacea to our oil dependence problem. If we’re not able to witness solar-powered flying cars in this lifetime, then electric seemed to be the way to go. We imagined these vehicles as sleek, Zen-quiet machines which naturally smell of fresh pine, guided along by a GPS equipped with the voice of Sir David Attenborough. It was the future of transportation, not MRT lines underneath Macritchie reservoir, not car-free days, not bicycles or hoverboards. Instead, our government bans electric scooters in parks, slaps penalties on supposedly ‘green’ cars that happen to be gluttons for electricity, and the public asks for zero emission bicycles to be regulated. No, we’re still not going to emulate the Jetsons in another 50 years.

But this isn’t the first time that anyone who tried to promote clean tech got into a tangle with the authorities. James Diebley couldn’t register his battery-operated three-wheeled Corbin Sparrow as a motorcycle as the LTA deemed it to be more ‘car-like’. Although the LTA explained that it would have granted the rebate , Diebley eventually gave up the EV, but only because being a solo vehicle, he couldn’t use it to send his kids to school. On one hand, we want to encourage families and pledge to cut emissions, on the other it seems that the prerequisites of driving a cool electric car around Singapore include being 1) bloody rich and 2) single. Yes, try picking up girls with a gadget that looks like a character out of Pixar’s Cars.

Somehow, people have this perception that being small and compact, Singapore would be ideal for an electric revolution. Yet at the same time we have one of the highest ownership of modified supercars in the region, despite the roads being notoriously race-unfriendly. Bureaucracy is often blamed as the final nail in the coffin of any hopes of us becoming a car-lite, low-carbon nation, but without the right mindset and behaviorial changes in all of us to ‘heal the world, make it a better place’, or we continue to have billionaires who can afford to be penalised even if their EV is a grid vampire, our future generations will still inherit the scum we leave behind, with or without electric cars and their rebates and charges.

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