Singapore is the globe's top country for autonomous driving

13 July 2020 3 min. read

In a new benchmark report by KPMG, Singapore has been named the globe’s top country for autonomous driving, slipping ahead of the Netherlands, which held the top spot for the past two years. Satya Ramamurthy, a partner at KPMG in Singapore, explains how Singapore has managed to take pole position. 

Singapore’s top rating on policy and legislation reflects the further efforts the country has taken to encourage the use of autonomous vehicles. In January 2019, the city-state’s government published its TR68 draft national standards for such vehicles as well as a voluntary AI governance framework, with the latter updated in January 2020 with real use-cases and consideration of how AI must generate consistent results. 

While test sites for autonomous vehicles in most countries and jurisdictions are either closed or tend to occupy relatively small areas, in October 2019 Singapore expanded its testing area to cover all public roads in western Singapore, around 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) making up one-tenth of the city state’s total. It also started retraining 100 bus drivers as autonomous vehicle bus safety operators, as part of its target to serve three new towns with driverless buses from 2022. 

March 2019 saw Volvo launch a 12-metre autonomous vehicle electric bus with Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, which could be used to serve these areas. Such work is supported by Singapore’s excellent road infrastructure, rated the best in the world in the World Economic Forum’s ‘Global Competiveness Report’. 

Singapore is the globe’s top country for autonomous driving

Singapore’s February 2020 budget included S$6 million (US$4.3 million) to support autonomous vehicle test-beds. With the aim of phasing out all internal combustion engine vehicles by 2040, it pledged to expand the number of electric vehicle charging points from 1,600 to 28,000 by 2030. An electric vehicle early adoption incentive scheme running until December 2023 cuts the purchase cost of such vehicles by an average of 11 percent.

While the budget has cut annual road taxes for electrical vehicles, it also started phasing in a usage tax of S$700 (US$500) a year for fully electric vehicles, in advance of a distance-based usage tax to compensate for the loss of fuel excise duties. Singapore is clearly ahead of the curve in thinking through the budget consequences of electric vehicles. 

March 2020 saw South Korean vehicle maker Hyundai announce a global innovation center that will open in Singapore in 2022, while Chinese vehicle electronics company Desay has set up its first overseas research and development center to work on autonomous vehicles. However, on the downside, UK consumer manufacturer Dyson cancelled its plans to open a factory for electric vehicles in Singapore. 

While Singapore’s market size makes it difficult to attract vehicle manufacturing, it has major strengths including people’s acceptance of new technologies. Driverless cars are also expected to be integrated into Singapore’s land transport master plan for becoming a ’45-minute city’ with 90% of journeys completed in this time by 2040.

Contrary to a number of other leaders in autonomous driving, private vehicle ownership is not the priority in Singapore, consistent with the ‘car-lite’ policy of Singapore. Instead, autonomous vehicles adoption and development will initially be significantly focused on freight movement and public transport. 

About autonomous vehicles

In KPMG’s analysis, autonomous vehicles refer to the technology used both within vehicles and externally, such as digital networks and road infrastructure. It also refers to vehicles that can do everything a traditional vehicle does without human intervention, sometimes described as ‘level five automation’, where vehicles are fully self-driving and the human driver becomes a passenger. The terms autonomous vehicle and driverless car are used interchangeably.