“The future is electric.” For the past decade, we’ve been hearing this ad nauseam about electric cars. But this year, it looks like electriﬁcation is ﬁnally getting its act together in Singapore. Forget Tesla. The American brand came and went like an F1 drive-through penalty and is available only as a parallel import here.
But mass market manufacturers with longtime local dealerships have already driven their electric vehicles (EVs) into the showroom. The Hyundai Ioniq and Renault Zoe are available here, and the latest Nissan Leaf will be joining them soon. This year, though, belongs to the luxury EV. Here’s what’s going down.
E-mobility goes upscale, first with the Jaguar I-Pace in the first quarter of the year. The British manufacturer’s first pure-electric SUV is all-wheel drive and very sporty with a combined 400hp and 696Nm. A lightweight aluminium body plus a heavyweight 90kWh lithium-ion battery equates to an outstanding range of up to 470km.
Following silently in the second half of the year is the Audi e-tron at around $400,000. This full-size electric SUV debuts with a new generation of quattro all-wheel drive. But its party trick has to be its maximum energy recuperation, in combination with the integrated electro-hydraulic brake control system – a world’s first for a production model. With 355hp, 561Nm and a heavyduty 95kWh battery pack, expect to tool around for 400km on a single charge.
Then there’s the venerable brand with the three-pointed star. The Mercedes-Benz EQC is expected to arrive at the very end of this year. This compact crossover has 400hp and an 80kWh battery good for about 450km. There is no price indication for this electric Merc so far but it won’t be cheap – there isn’t an EV as yet that is as affordable as a car with a conventional petrol or diesel engine.
Which means that while e-mobility will become more widespread this year, Singapore still has some miles to log before it becomes a bona fide electric city. That turning point will come – fast – only when the magic triangle is complete with lower battery prices and a wider charging network.
Globally, one factor speeding things up on the electric highway is emissions – in particular, WLTP or Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicles Test Procedure. This is a laboratory test for fuel consumption and pollutant emissions, and it replaces NEDC or New European Driving Cycle, which is over 30 years old. Like having a new boss at work, it implies is that some adjustments are required, and it’s not going to be easy. For motorists, cars may get more expensive. For manufacturers, it involves shaking the very foundations of their business.
This is because the old NEDC test was based on a theoretical driving profile, but the WLTP cycle uses realdriving data. In other words, WLTP is more stringent, making it harder for manufacturers to meet more rigorous emission regulations with good old internal combustion engines. Hence, carmakers have no choice but to look to electric alternatives to meet the higher standards.
TEXT SAMUEL EE
As the smartphone has completely changed the way we use mobile devices, so too will artificial intelligence or AI overhaul the automobile. This year will see more digital cockpits with virtual images consigning more analogue instruments and round metres to the auto museum.
While AI isn’t going to make Grab drivers obsolete with autonomous vehicles just yet, there are already self-driving production vehicles with Level 3 autonomy. This is where a car steers, accelerates and brakes itself under certain conditions, such as on an expressway with marked lanes.
Not far down the road, Level 4 will introduce a higher level of automation. But the holy grail is Level 5 where human intervention is not required; neither is a steering wheel or pedals. With autonomous driving, there is also the utopian vision of connectivity and it’s not about Airdrop or free Wi-Fi.
Rather, car-to-car connectivity allows autonomous cars to communicate with one another by sharing real-time information on proximity, speed and road conditions to reduce congestion and enhance safety.
Because in a driverless world, AI will do the thinking for you.
With more EVs coming on-stream, Singapore is slowly but steadily expanding its EV charging network, and private EV owners will eventually have greater access to more public charging points. But, until that happens, there is the trusty hybrid. Last year’s VES, or the Vehicular Emissions Scheme, killed off cheap sedans like a determined pest buster hunting down wayward rodents.
As registration surcharges replaced rebates, it was the fuel-sipping petrolelectric hybrids that accelerated ahead in the marketplace. Taxi and private-hire companies bought them for their fleets, increasing consumer acceptance of these fuel-efficient models at the same time.
Together with the push towards public transport as part of the Government’s car-lite vision, it looks like petrol sales will hit a downtrend. That’s not good news, because lower sales lead to lower duty collected, which may require the shortfall to be replaced by another fiscal measure.
Looking at the three luxury electric models due here this year, it is clear that the SUV trend is still firing on all cylinders (or is it battery cells?). The petrol-engined sport-utility vehicle and its crossover cousin remain most of the world’s favourite body style, although there are differences depending on the region.
In the US and China, the two biggest auto markets, the SUV/crossover juggernaut has been running over the humble sedan like roadkill. The full-size SUV dominates there but, in Singapore, where car prices are the highest in the world, it’s more a mixed bag of big and small.
The SUV trend here has slowed from 40 per cent of all new cars bought three years ago, to just 25 per cent last year. This was due to the absence of new and affordable models. But the trend isn’t dying out any time soon, especially in the luxury segment, where the high-end SUV shows no signs of slowing down.
Take Audi, which kick-started the premium SUV boom here in 2009 with its compact Q5. Worldwide, the demand for its SUVs is growing faster than you can say “zero to 100kmh’’. The German premium carmaker’s deliveries of SUVs have doubled in the last five years and, today, over one in three Audi vehicles sold is a Q model. Little wonder then that there is a brand new crossover arriving this year – the Audi Q8. The full-size Q8 is a sleeker, more coupe-like version of the hulking Q7; it’s a sportier sport-utility vehicle, if you will.
So big or small, premium or mainstream, the SUV trend will continue, if only because of the body style’s intrinsic attractions of higher ride height and better interior space.