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But who will buy one?

The Tesla Roadster, a 288-horsepower, fully-electric two-seater sports car, is now back in Singapore, as you may have heard. But its price tag starts at $520,000, and with certificate-of-entitlement prices on the rise*, it ain’t getting any cheaper.
So who will buy one? I was trying to figure this out the other day.

The first niche market I can imagine is, obviously, very wealthy car-lovers. Their alternatives are flashy sports cars like the Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Porsche. Money is no object, so the price of fuel isn’t going to make a dent. (The price of fuel is a minuscule proportion of the price and running cost of the car.)
Let’s get into the psychology of a flashy-sports-car owner for a second. If the whole point is to be seen and heard, Why would anyone want a silent, vroomless Roadster? (Because the Roadster is electric, it is also quiet, quiet, quiet.)

The second niche market I can imagine is people who really, really like the environment.
These people – unless they have made their millions in another industry beforehand, suggesting they may not really like the environment as much as they say they do – rarely have money. So no, they’re not going to buy a Roadster.

The managing director of EV Hub suggests the main market is wealthy entrepreneurs, people who are risk-takers and early adopters. I think the market for that in Singapore is more limited than he believes. (Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s great that someone is importing electric cars for sale. You have to start somewhere. And I think the Roadster certainly has that ‘wow’ factor, enabling it to make electric cars cool. But in this industry, there may be no first mover advantage, and the first mover may end up losing out as those with more refined business models stampede over him.)

I also think Tesla Motors itself knows this, which is why it’s moving from selling the flashy Roadster to the more sedate Model S luxury sedan. The buyers of the Model S have a bit more price sensitivity towards fuel costs. They’re family guys or gals who want to transport people and things. The alternatives in Singapore, in terms of performance, size and cost, are MPVs and SUVs, Jaguars and BMWs. And potential buyers may be more easily nudged by the Model S’ green credentials. Which is why it’s had at least three pre-orders here – and the Roadster, which has been test-driven and joy-ridden plenty, has had none.

*A note about certificate of entitlement, or COE prices. They are a blunt instrument whose primary function is to a) limit congestion on the roads by imposing a quota on the total number of vehicles and b) ensure a clean, less-pollutive fleet of newish cars. The Singapore government could very well use it surgically, creating incentives for much cleaner cars and disincentivising dirtier ones. But will it?

**But where to charge them? I’m not really concerned about this – the sort of people who have the cash to buy an electric car here are typically the sort of people who have the disposable income to live in landed property or an upscale condo.