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From denied tax breaks to happy handshakes: A comprehensive look back on Tesla's history with Singapore, from 2011 to 2021.

21 Aug 2021

The official Singapore Reddit thread, r/singapore, was abuzz with excitement earlier this week; a photo had been posted of Tesla's shiny new site at Toa Payoh Lorong 8. 

It's impossible that you've missed the news, but yes, Tesla is back. Officially. To commemorate the electric carmaker's return to Singapore this year, SGCM is taking a look back on its colourful history with our tax-heavy/hostile-to-cars/unwelcome sunny island. Mind you - it's been 10 years since the California-based company first attempted to set foot in Singapore; we're amazed by how much has transpired since. Our shared past actually isn't so brief, so hang on tight as we get you through a detailed history of: SG x Tesla.


February '11

The Tesla Roadster failed to establish much of a presence here back in 2011
We start our road trip in 2011. It only takes six months after setting up its showroom at Suntec City before Tesla announces that it is exiting Singapore.

Failure to reach a consensus with the Economic Development Board on tax breaks means that the Tesla Roadster - then, the only Tesla production model - has to go head-to-head with higher end Porsches and Maseratis, rather than mid-range BMWs or Mercs ($500,000 vs $250,000). Tesla nopes out; it packs its bags and leaves.

July '11

Local electric vehicle proponent, EV Hub, bravely mounts a second attempt at the Roadster under its new e-mobility venture, FSG Mobility (Fast, Sexy, Green). The SGCM team even gets to test the Roadster this time, sending Julian in for the time of his life. But success remains elusive; FSG apparently fails to gain momentum and will later fade silently away in 2015. Sigh.


Sometime around July '15...

A Singapore-based IT professional, Joe Nguyen, purchases a 2014 Tesla Model S from Hong Kong and ships it here, hoping to clinch emission rebates before driving it around. Little does he know what is lying in wait…


February '16 

PM Lee's friendly interactions with Tesla included a visit to their factory (Image from PM Lee's Facebook page)
Dropping by Silicon Valley on a state trip to the U.S., Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong shares that he has taken a "brief but exhilarating ride" in the Tesla Model S P90D, while also having a conversation with Tesla CEO Elon Musk. With a smiley-faced emoji too. Yay. 😀

March '16

The definitive bombshell - likely the most well-known anecdote in this history - drops early in the month. 

Joe Nguyen dominates the headlines when he shares online how his attempt to import a barely-used Model S had resulted in a $15,000 carbon tax. This was after a year-long ordeal too, involving various local agencies, including VICOM, LTA and EMA, to test the car. The sum had arisen from LTA's consideration of grid emissions - emissions from local electricity generation - based on its own calculations of the car's electricity consumption. 

The barely-used Tesla in the middle of the saga was imported from Hong Kong
A carbon tax? Slapped on a car with zero tailpipe-emissions? The media, local and international, has a field day ripping into the incredulity of the situation.

Elon Musk catches wind of the hoo-ha on Twitter and shares that he has gotten on the phone with PM Lee to discuss the situation. LTA later states it is re-evaluating the tax, although updates don't emerge for a while. 

Responding to queries, Tesla also says that it is working closely with the LTA to figure out how it can bring its cars into Singapore. The then-recently revised CEVS rebate is cited as a reason why business may now be viable. 

April '16

Priced significantly lower than the S and X, the Model 3 promises wider markets for Tesla 
After unveiling Tesla's first mid-range model, the Model 3, Musk includes Singapore for pre-orders on 1 April - fresh off the previous month's saga, and not as some elaborate April Fool's joke. At least 13 pre-orders are registered preliminarily for Singapore. 

At this point, there is no clear indication yet on when the cars will arrive; Musk places estimates at within the year. With the privilege of hindsight, we now know this not to be true. 


Late-May to early-June '18

LTA pushes back against Musk with a clear reiteration of a car-lite vision for Singapore
The open town-hall with Musk on Twitter continues. When a netizen asks if he can bring Teslas into Singapore, he plainly states that the government is not supportive of EVs.

In return, LTA brandishes its ultimate goal of a car-lite vision for Singapore, although acknowledging part of its approach is to "address emissions from the land transport sector".

The will not be the last of the run-ins between both sides. 

October '18

A report by The Straits Times shows two Tesla Model Ss being registered recently. Fortunately, their owners do not suffer the same fate as Joe Nguyen, securing tax breaks of $15,000 and $10,000 separately for their different variants. 

Mr Nguyen also reveals that LTA had confirmed seven months after the saga that it was not backing down on its decision. He is apparently invigorated by the new Teslas to fight his case again, saying that he wants to "write to [his] MP about it". You go boy. 


January '19

The Model X: Introduced to Singapore in the exact price bracket Tesla wanted to avoid
Elon Musk versus the Singapore government: Part III. When answering a question again on Twitter, the Tesla CEO takes swipe at the government, saying that they are "unwelcome". 

Around this exact period, SGCM records also show the Model X listed for sale - for the first time ever locally - by a Parallel Importer. The car's listing price hovers dangerously close to the half-million SGD line.

August '19

This time round, a high profile state minister steps in directly. Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli hits back at Musk's statements in an interview, with his now-famous string of quotes:

"What Elon Musk wants to produce is a lifestyle… We are not interested in a lifestyle. We are interested in proper solutions that will address climate problems." (An oft-overlooked portion of the same interview, though, is the Minister's acknowledgement that Singapore is one of the best places for an EV-rollout).

Spectators lower their heads dejectedly, resigning themselves to the fact that Tesla and Singapore may never ever get back together officially.


February '20

The Model S also ultimately fell into the same ultra-expensive category as the Model X
As a hint, perhaps, that the vault is about to be opened, the Model S starts to be listed too by parallel importers.

But prices are astronomical - above $400,000 and just below the Model X - solidifying Tesla's place back in the same stratosphere as Porsche and Maserati that it so badly wanted to avoid.

Still a win, surely. Although greater things are on the horizon…

July '20 onwards

Towards the end of July, job listings for Tesla service staff in Singapore mysteriously start surfacing. There is no indication yet that this will serve the local market (Tesla has regional offices).

In September, the carmaker cryptically opens up positions for senior developers. Then, in November, it all but confirms its relaunch with a position for a Charging Manager - to helm impending Tesla charging networks in Singapore. At the start of 2021, the company will cause an Internet storm again when its job description for a Logistics Analyst states that candidates must be fluent in English and Hindi.


After a 10-year wait, Tesla's grand return to Singapore is greeted with much fanfare and media attention.  

February '21

Tesla's ferocious onslaught in Singapore this year has culminated in a showroom at Raffles City
On 8 February, Tesla finally acknowledges its unexplained job listings and announces that it is officially re-launching in Singapore. One day later, its sales portal goes 'live'. Unlike in other markets though, only the Model 3 is offered here for now.

The starting price for the Model 3 ranges from $113,000 to $155,000 before COE this time round, placing Audi, BMW and Merc (even higher end Toyotas/Hondas) directly in the electric carmaker's crosshairs at last. We've come full circle now.

June '21

The jubilation from February takes a pause when Tesla announces that deliveries worldwide for its Model 3s have been affected due to chip shortages brought on by the pandemic.

Naturally, Singapore isn't given any special privileges. Some buyers lament the delay, while others hold on eagerly and patiently to their pre-orders. 

In the same breath, however, Tesla Singapore also announces that it is opening a service and delivery centre in Toa Payoh Lorong 8 - the previous site of Tan Chong Motors' Nissan dealership. Whew. Filling big shoes indeed. 

July '21

The Tesla fast-chargers at Orchard Central: Finally, something both sides can shake on
With the installation of 3 Tesla V3 Superchargers at Orchard Central carpark mid-July, the once frosty relations between Tesla and the Singapore government show signs of thawing. The Superchargers boast charging times as short as 15 minutes - a fun fact shared none other by Singapore's Transport Minister, S Iswaran. 

Then, later on in the month, the first Model 3s are delivered to customers on a Thursday morning - five months after the sales portal opened and five years after the first pre-orders. The Business Times also reveals more details on the Toa Payoh site: Tesla will likely lease it for at least 20 years.

One day later, Tesla opens its new showroom at Raffles City - one of its "experience stores" - with queues apparently crossing the hour mark. 

And with that, we've finally driven back into the present.

Firmly plugged into the local market 

Tesla has narrowed the gap so much that even its entry-level model is priced competitively against the Toyota Camry Hybrid
Back in 2011, with bigger marques Porsche and Maserati as its direct rivals and the Roadster as its only knight, Tesla was fighting with both hands tied behind its back. Its exit from the Singapore market was at worst, a sensible admission of defeat, but in truth, a wise and calculated business decision.

Later in the decade, the Model S and X arrived through parallel importers in a similar price bracket, albeit to an SG car mart that was warming up to ultra-luxury cars. Still, Teslas remained extremely out of reach for the majority. 

Armed now, exactly 10 years later, with an entry-level model priced competitively against the likes of the Toyota Camry Hybrid, and in a landscape much more hospitable towards EVs, Tesla is charging back in to plant its flag firmly here. We don't know about you, but something tells us that even amidst the pandemic, Toa Payoh Lorong 8 and Raffles City are going to fare quite a bit better than just six months.

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tesla  tesla motors  model 3  singapore  toa payoh  elon musk