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Singapore in Talks With More Electric Car Companies After Dyson

Dyson said last year it would be building electric cars in Singapore. (File photo: AP/Rob Bennett)

By Linus Chua

Following Dyson Ltd.’s plans late last year to manufacture its first electric car in Singapore, the city-state is now in talks with other makers of green vehicles to set up shop on the island.

Singapore is pitching its connectivity to global markets through free-trade agreements, its high-skilled workforce and stringent protection of intellectual property, which is critical for the industry, according to the government agency set up to attract investments to the country.

“Hopefully they won’t be the only one we land,” Chng Kai Fong, managing director of the Singapore Economic Development Board, said in an interview, referring to Dyson’s plans. “We’re in active negotiations or discussions with a couple of others. The whole idea is to build clusters.”

Bringing in other electric car manufacturers will create scale for the sector in Singapore, which is also spurring the development of autonomous vehicles in the country. The use of high-tech robotics and automation, as well as supply chain management and connectivity, could help dispel concerns on the high labor costs in Singapore.

“It’s much more of a capital game than a labor game,” Chng said in San Francisco, where his agency hosted two technology-related conferences including the Bridge Forum. “That plays to our strength.”

Dyson, the closely held manufacturer of hand dryers and vacuum cleaners, said in October it plans to complete its factory by 2020 with the goal of rolling out its first model by 2021 as part of a 2 billion pound ($2.6 billion) effort to expand into automobiles.

Singapore Headquarters

Earlier this year, billionaire inventor James Dyson raised the stakes by announcing plans to relocate his company’s head office to Singapore from the U.K. with the growing importance of Asia to its business.

Singapore doesn’t have a single car-manufacturing plant and is one of the costliest places in the world to buy an automobile. And not every electric carmaker is a fan.

Elon Musk tweeted in January that Singapore has been unwelcoming to Tesla Inc., adding to his previous assertions that the government doesn’t support electric vehicles. The billionaire chief executive officer was responding to a tweet inquiring why Tesla wasn’t in the Southeast Asian nation. Musk had said in May that Tesla tried to bring its cars to Singapore but was unsuccessful because the government was “not supportive” of electric vehicles.

Singapore’s also getting pushback from some companies for introducing a carbon tax. The government says it’s to help meet its Paris Agreement obligations, but it would also in turn drive up costs compared with other Asian markets.

“Increasingly, carbon will be a constraint,” Chng said. “But we have to do it. It’s a trade off between our obligations, our environmental sustainability, and our economic growth.”

© 2019 Bloomberg L.P