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  Business Times 7 Aug 07
Time for fresh look at diesel-powered cars

SINGAPORE is an acknowledged leader in transport management - but its policy on diesel-fuelled cars is increasingly looking antiquated.

While the Republic's Certificate-of-Entitlement (COE) quota system to control vehicle growth and its Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system to manage vehicle usage have set the pace for other cities, Singapore is lagging behind in its policies towards diesel-powered cars.

Singapore's rules for diesel engines were set many years ago when diesel was a dirty fuel.

The modern diesel engine and fuel is actually very clean, even compared to gasoline engines. Current policies, however, do not take that into account.

While most commercial vehicles are diesel-powered, few private passenger cars are, with owners discouraged by high charges. Private users of diesel-driven cars must pay a diesel tax on top of a road tax, which is six times the road tax, or four times for a Euro IV-compliant diesel car.

Not surprisingly, only seven out of the 470,000 cars sold here last year run on diesel. This is in sharp contrast to many developed countries, where there is an even greater emphasis on being green.

In Britain last week, the government launched a major campaign to promote greener driving, and its underlying message was that a diesel car was the best option as it would travel at least 20 per cent further than a similar car using an equivalent amount of fuel.

Almost half the new passenger cars in Europe run on diesel. It is notable that Japan, which has also frowned on diesel cars, has signalled that it is now prepared to give diesel a second look, given the advancements made in diesel technology.

Diesel-powered cars, of course, are not the only alternatives to petrol-driven cars.

Hybrid vehicle technology, which couples the internal combustion engine with an electric motor, will play an increasingly important role as costs come down and as hybrid technology becomes available on a broader range of vehicles.

And the government here has been receptive of hybrids and other vehicles powered by alternative fuels. It offers a Green Vehicle Rebate worth 40 per cent of the Open Market Value (OMV) - or the base value - of a vehicle that can be used to offset the upfront taxes, in order to help motorists who are willing to switch to environmentally friendly vehicles, such as CNG, electric and petrol-electric hybrid cars.

But it can be argued that diesel-fuelled cars, because they are far more advanced in development compared to hybrids or other alternative fuel-driven vehicles, offer the best immediate alternative to petrol-driven cars.

Indeed, major manufacturers like BMW, Mercedes and Audi have taken the diesel engine to petrol-beating heights. New-generation diesel engines are not only as clean as petrol engines but also more efficient.

Singapore - which prides itself in having a flexible policy-making regime that keeps pace with changing developments - should consider re-evaluating its stand on diesel.

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