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Tesla car hit with S$15k surcharge ‘as it was used, not emissions-free’

SINGAPORE — Stressing that electric cars are not “carbon emissions-free”, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has explained why a second-hand Tesla purchased by a man here was hit with a hefty emissions surcharge, pointing out that had it been brand new, it would have earned a rebate.

Tesla car hit with S$15k surcharge ‘as it was used, not emissions-free’

Mr Joe Nguyen with his Tesla Model S. Mr Nguyen welcomed a re-test of his car under ‘proper supervision’, and said it was very unlikely a 1.5 year-old car with 1,000km would lose that kind of efficiency. Photo: Joe Nguyen

SINGAPORE — Stressing that electric cars are not “carbon emissions-free”, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has explained why a second-hand Tesla purchased by a man here was hit with a hefty emissions surcharge, pointing out that had it been brand new, it would have earned a rebate.

Noting that the car in question — a Tesla Model S — was first registered in Hong Kong in 2014, the LTA said that the emissions and fuel efficiency of a used car can “vary significantly” depending on how it was previously driven and maintained.

Nonetheless, the LTA, together with VICOM Emission Test Laboratory (VeTL), will be working with Tesla engineers to look into testing processes for electric cars.

Last week, Mr Joe Nguyen made headlines when he recounted his journey of importing a used Tesla Model S into Singapore. He questioned why the car, touted as more environmentally friendly, instead left him with a S$15,000 charge for its being a non-fuel-efficient car.

The incident caught the eye of Tesla founder Elon Musk, who reached out to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on the matter. In turn, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office said various agencies were looking into the issue.

In a statement on Thursday (March 10), the LTA said that while electric cars may not produce emissions from the tailpipe like conventional cars, they take electrical power from the national power grid which produces the electricity by burning fuel. This produces carbon emissions in the process.

The Tesla in question would have had an energy consumption rating of 181 watt-hour per km when it left the Tesla factory on June 28, 2014, putting it in the A1 band of the Carbon Emissions Vehicle Scheme (CEVS), and qualifying it for a rebate. A car in the A1 band qualifies for a rebate of S$30,000.

But when the LTA put the used car to the test at the VeTL, it was found to have an electrical energy consumption of 444 watt-hour per km.

Using an emissions factor commonly applied to electric and plug-in electric hybrid cars, the car showed a carbon emissions level that placed it in the CEVS C3 band — racking up a surcharge of S$15,000.

A used car, said the LTA, must be subjected to emissions and fuel efficiency tests as the authority would not know how much its condition might have deteriorated over time.

“We cannot make exceptions as it would not be fair to other car owners, and would have an impact on our environment-related policies,” said the LTA.

When contacted, Mr Nguyen, 44, who works at an Internet research firm, maintained that he welcomed a re-test of his car under “proper supervision”.

Noting that the car had an energy consumption rating of 181 watt-hour per km when it left the Tesla factory in 2014, he said: “It is very unlikely that a 1.5 year-old car with 1,000km will lose that kind of efficiency.”

Mr Jean Rodriguez, chief of the Information Unit at United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) — whose R101 standards the LTA adopted to test Mr Nguyen’s car — told Channel NewsAsia that the LTA appears to be the only national regulator to have included power grid emission when evaluating the carbon footprint of electric vehicles.

As for the LTA’s application of the R101 standard, Mr Rodriguez said it appeared correct, but noted that it only specifies how to measure the energy consumption of the vehicle.

On the other hand, the emissions factor used by the LTA, which is 0.5g CO2 per watt-hour, depends on the means of electricity generation. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AMANDA LEE

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