Current Affairs

Can BlueSG steer the car-sharing industry towards a greener direction?

(Source: www.channelnewsasia.com)

Local car-sharing operators said the concept is gradually becoming popular in car-lite Singapore, while the use of electric cars has also been pitched as a more environmentally-friendly means of travel. But can putting both together be a sustainable business model?

SINGAPORE: With an initial fleet of 80 cars, 30 charging stations, and both the Land Transport Authority and Economic Development Board behind it, BlueSG will be the first operator in Singapore to roll out a large-scale, fully-electric car-sharing programme on Dec 12. 

By 2020, the company intends to have a fleet of 1,000 electric vehicles and 2,000 charging points on the streets of Singapore. 

However, the subsidiary of French conglomerate Bollore Group is not the first player to have attempted this feat.

In 2012, local operator Smove started a fully-electric fleet of white Mitsubishi i-MiEV cars. However, the fleet was converted to hybrid cars after about a year, citing charging infrastructure limitations and business growth concerns.

Car Club, one of the largest and oldest operators in Singapore, roped in Nanyang Technological University to trial a small fleet of 10 cars in 2015. This effort was shuttered “after a few months”, according to managing director Gary Ong.      

“Car Club is really very open to the idea of electric vehicles. However, I think the roll out and take up of electric vehicles is dependent on a few factors. One obviously is the market acceptance of such a vehicle. More importantly, the availability and efficiency of the charging network,” said Mr Ong. 

“The charging network has to – at the very minimum – mimic that of a gas station right now. That means if I want to charge my car, I must be able to get a charging slot whenever I  want – just like how a gas station works.”

However, he added that the amount of electricity required to support the charging of multiple electric cars could easily overwhelm what a typical public car park is equipped with, necessitating pricey infrastructure upgrades. Additionally, the cars themselves are not subsidised and require Certificates of Entitlement.

Such costs would have to be borne by BlueSG, and driving one of the company’s cars for an hour would set one back at least S$19.80 after paying S$15 a month for a yearly premium membership (currently waived for the first 1,000 customers who register between Dec 4 and 11, alongside a free two hour rental until Jan 31, 2018).

But the company said it also offers the lowest minimum rental duration in the market at 15 minutes. It also does not require driver to return cars to their point of origin, unlike competitors such as Car Club and Whizzcar.

First-hour rental costs

Smove: S$50 (flat rate for one to three hours)

BlueSG: $19.80 (with premium yearly membership)

Whizzcar: S$13

Car Club: S$11

Tribecar: S$2.14 (requires petrol top-up)

DRIVING AN ELECTRIC CAR MOVEMENT IN SINGAPORE

President of the Car-sharing Association of Singapore Lai Meng welcomed the entry of BlueSG into the market, highlighting that the company’s “vast experience and resources in electric vehicle-sharing” positions it well for success in Singapore and the region. 

He hoped that the company’s experience in Singapore will encourage other operators to expand their services in the country, which needs “a broad spectrum of transport options including car-sharing to achieve its land transport objectives”.

“(BlueSG) will need time to understand the local market, to adjust and customise their services for the Asian customers,” said Mr Lai. “But the future trend in private mobility is on their side.”

Transport observer and director at consultancy Atkins Acuity Jonathan Spear shared the same view. 

He said that the introduction of electric car-sharing alone cannot change Singaporean’s mindset on private car ownership. 

He added that Singapore needs to look at other places such as Norway, London and parts of the Netherlands where the overall strategy of promoting electric vehicles and car-sharing includes trying to change consumer behaviours. 

“They have tax breaks, they have grants for people to buy electric vehicles rather than petrol or diesel vehicles. There’s a very strong investment from the public sector into charging stations on the streets, and a lot of consumer information, education and awareness building.”

But he noted the increased interest from various stakeholders.

“Clearly, if it’s successful, if the brand spreads, the idea spreads, then I can see other operators coming into the market. That would potentially bring the unit costs down over time, make the overall idea of car-sharing, electric car-sharing more competitive, and therefore increase take-up,” Mr Spear said.

Club Car’s Mr Ong echoed this sentiment, adding that supporting electric vehicles goes hand in hand with developments towards driverless vehicles – which do not run on petrol.

“Electric vehicles need car-sharing to succeed – not the other way around. Because car-sharing provides the commercial case for the electric vehicle to become viable.”

More Info: www.channelnewsasia.com

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