THE Land Transport Authority (LTA) has given initial approval for a new electric scooter to be brought to Singapore by five-month-old local company Zeco Scooters.
The scooter costs nearly twice as much as regular machines available here, but promises fuel savings of up to $1,300 a year because its 50cc-equivalent engine runs on electricity. The bikes can be charged from any electrical outlet, and a full charge will take between three and eight hours, depending on the model. The maximum distance such a bike can cover after charging ranges from 45km to 90km.
Though the LTA has given initial approval, the scooter still needs the go-ahead from other government agencies before it can hit the streets. Nevertheless, Zeco's managing director Jan Croeni, a German, has already ordered his first shipment of about 20 E-Max bikes from their German manufacturer. The scooters - which will retail for between $6,999 and $7,399 each - are due here in March.
Zeco hopes business will be brisk after the official launch of the machine at its Outram Road showroom tomorrow. Mr Croeni said he chose to roll out the scooters in Singapore because of its "self-contained" nature. "There is not much urban sprawl, it has limited range, so it's ideal to promote this vehicle," he said.
"The scooter is cost-efficient, totally new and has zero emissions," he added.
But although electric scooters have already proven popular in China and Taiwan, experts are doubtful that they will take off here, at least for now. For one thing, finding a place to charge the scooter may be difficult. Zeco plans to build "plug-and-charge" stations across the island, if the scooter takes off.
But until it does, the company hopes users can charge their machines at public outlets. In return, Zeco plans to return power to the grid by eventually building solar panels to generate electricity.
Zeco will also have to overcome Singaporeans' slowness to embrace green technology.
Dr Michael Li, transport economist from Nanyang Technological University's business school, feels that only a "small percentage" of professionals - one of Zeco's target markets - would be green-minded enough to buy a scooter.
"This would be an additional cost and extra hassle, considering the number of rainy days in Singapore. The market is not mature enough," said Dr Li. The scooter's relatively low maximum speed of 60kmh could also cause safety issues, particularly when navigating Singapore's high-speed roads and when overtaking vehicles.
"It will be a fairly small niche market here until Singapore's roads are made safer for low-speed vehicles, perhaps by lowering speeds on certain roads or through better reinforcement of speed limits," said urban transport policy expert Paul Barter.
So would you be a potential customer for an electric scooter?