Mr Khor Joo Heng, 60, was hurrying about his stuffy motor workshop in AutoCity at Sin Ming when he was asked what he would do if Singapore achieved its aim of phasing out internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles by 2040.
“Die lah,” he quickly told CNA without missing a step, shuffling from car to lorry wearing stained overalls with tools in hand.
Mr Khor is among a number of traditional motor workshop owners who said they would likely shut down if Singapore’s vehicle population becomes fully electric, attributing it to factors like advancing age and a potentially crippling lack of business.
In particular, the workshop owners pointed to how brand new electric vehicles (EVs) would come with extended warranty periods – longer than some ICE vehicles – and thus be exclusively maintained at authorised agents, ending their stream of customers.
And with no potential successors intending to enter what could be an increasingly niche and costly market, the workshop owners said they were only biding their time before retirement.
The Singapore Motor Workshop Association (SMWA) said about 50 to 60 percent of its roughly 2,000 members have indicated they could shut down once EVs fully roll out.
“Either they stop business or they diversify,” its president Mike Keh told CNA, explaining that this includes shifting to EV maintenance or other areas like body work. Right now, most of the workshops are run by first-generation owners. They are old already, with no second generation to take over. So, they got no choice. They have to close.”
Many of these traditional workshops specialise solely in servicing ICE vehicles, which require a number of maintenance tasks at various age or mileage milestones in their lifetime. EVs, on the other hand, require significantly less maintenance as they do not have an engine and thus have fewer moving parts.
“For ICE cars you have to change engine oil and other minor things, mostly on the mechanical parts in the engine,” Mr Keh added. “Whereas for EVs there’s totally nothing you can do, other than checking the battery health and how much they are in working condition.”
Electric Vehicles On The Rise
The plan to phase out ICE vehicles was first unveiled during Budget 2020, when then-Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced that all vehicles should run on cleaner energy by 2040 in a bid to cut emissions.
While Mr Heng mentioned cleaner alternatives like hybrids and EVs, it should be noted that hybrid vehicles are still powered by ICEs with batteries that cannot be charged externally. In February 2021, the Government launched the Singapore Green Plan 2030, aiming to achieve its long-term net-zero emissions goal “as soon as viable”.
This includes “a strong push to electrify our vehicle population”, supported by a campaign to raise awareness of EVs, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said on its website.
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