Tesla Model S 85 drive-4

Yes, you read the headline right – the electric-powered, zero-emissions, guilt-free Tesla Model S has been slapped with a S$15,000 (RM44,700) carbon dioxide emissions surcharge in Singapore, due to the country’s Land Transport Authority (LTA) taking into account upstream emissions at the electricity power plant in calculating a car’s CO2 emissions.

According to The Straits Times, the owner, Joe Nguyen, was hit with the fine after reportedly spending some seven months importing the sedan from Hong Kong and going through type approval. The Model S was the first electric vehicle in the island nation to be levied that surcharge, instead of a rebate of the same amount offered to EV owners under the country’s Carbon Emissions-based Vehicle Scheme (CEVS).

“Honestly, it’s stupid,” said Nguyen. “I went back to them [LTA], and they cited a UN emissions 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?”

An LTA spokesperson said, “Based on tests conducted under the UNECE R101 standards, the electric energy consumption of his imported used Tesla car was 444 watt-hour per kilometre. [To] account for CO2 emissions during the electricity generation process, a grid emission factor of 0.5g/watt-hour was also applied to the electric energy consumption.”

As such, the Model S was judged to be emitting a heady 222 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre, slotting it under the CEVS’ C3 bracket – where the S$15k surcharge is applicable. By contrast, the Peugeot Ion (a rebadged Mitsubishi i-MiEV) was granted a S$20,000 (RM59,600) rebate after undergoing the same emissions tests, while the BMW i3 and i8 both qualified for the maximum rebate of S$30,000 (RM89,400).

Since then, Nguyen has elected to pay the surcharge to expedite the already-protracted ordeal of obtaining and driving the car. “I’ve given up on getting the money back,” he said. “I just want LTA to improve. There is a lot of interest in the Model S.”

On Friday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that he had heard of the case and spoken to Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, claiming that the premier would “investigate the situation.”

Nanyang Business School adjunct associate professor Zafar Momin commented on how Singapore may now have missed out on becoming a leader in EVs as a result of this case. “Given Singapore’s land size, great infrastructure and commitment to sustainability, we would not only have been the perfect test bed for EVs, but also an ideal market for their wider application and usage.

While we have initiatives and incentives for EVs, we may already have missed the big opportunity to be a leader in EVs as a nation. The Tesla importation case is perhaps indicative of why we may have missed the opportunity,” he said.

Closer to home, the government has recently agreed to waive import and excise duties on 100 units of the Model S that will be brought in by the Malaysian Green Technology Corporation (GreenTech Malaysia). The cars are to be leased to government-linked companies (GLCs) to increase awareness of EVs and the tech among policy makers, and will not be sold in direct fashion to the public. GreenTech Malaysia already has two units of the Model S 85 in Malaysia, and you can read our exclusive review of the electric sedan here.

GALLERY: Tesla Model S in Malaysia