Why Millennials and Gen Zs Look Forward to the Day of Self-Driving Electric Cars

2019-03-04  |  6 min read 

Living in the world’s most expensive city1 makes one re-prioritize our needs and wants when it comes to one of the essentials of life – a car. Well, that was what a straw poll among the millennials and Gen Z in Singapore seemed to indicate. 

A recent conversation started with admiring the platoon of flashy cars spotted on the Hollywood box office hit Crazy Rich Asians. The movie portrayed the glitzy lifestyle of old money in Singapore. In a few scenes, branded cars from Audi to BMW, Lamborghini, McLaren and even a Rolls-Royce were shown off for car buffs to ogle at. While we debated the accuracy of lifestyle representation portrayed by the movie, we concurred most of us would probably have a higher chance of sitting in a self-driving car versus a chauffeur-driven one.

The majority of the Under 30’s whom I knew had driving licenses but had no plans to buy a car in the foreseeable future due to “budget constraints”. Taxation policies to curb car populations in Singapore included the need to pay for a Certificate of Entitlement (COE) before you could buy a car. For example, a Volkswagen Golf 1.4 can cost over US$100,000 in Singapore, including a US$20,000 COE.  

“Unless I get crazy rich from striking the lottery, my most affordable luxury for now is booking a ride via Grab during peak hours,” quipped my 25-year-old nephew, referring to the popular private-hire car service in Singapore.

The millennials and Gen Zs I spoke with agreed that knowing how to drive is good but not necessary, if you live in a city with good public transport. Some also believe that in the years ahead, driving will no longer be a vital skill, as they are more open than their risks-averse parents to embrace self-driving cars.

Earlier this year, regulatory authorities in Singapore rolled out Technical Reference 68 (TR 68)2, which aims to promote the safe deployment of fully driverless vehicles in Singapore according to the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Level 4 and 5 standards. The standards cover four areas: vehicle behavior, vehicle functional safety, cybersecurity and data formats.


Self-driving shuutle bus service at NUS campus
Driverless shuttle on trial at National University of Singapore from March 2019 (Photo credit: ComfortDelGro)

Another nephew who just got his driving license recently, said he believed in the myriad of algorithms driving autonomous vehicle technology, more than “the guy behind the wheel”. He was hoping to see self-driving cars hit more Singapore roads within the decade.

Singapore is already planning to test self-driving buses in three towns from 2022, and the country’s Transport Ministry had also said it was relooking how road rules could be extended to such self-driving vehicles in the future.

Given the hefty cost of cars in Singapore, the proverbial “status symbol” attached with car ownership had lost much of its appeal among the millennials and Gen Zs compared with their parents, my millennial eco-warrior niece sagely shared.

For her, supporting electro-mobility and car-sharing are hipper and more satisfying than scrimping to pay off car financing loans. “I do wish we had better e-mobility infrastructure though, and we need to look at getting the energy source to zero-carbon in future,” she said. In land-strapped sunny Singapore, highways and housing take priority over solar farms to generate photovoltaic energy.

Sinagpore's first all-EV car sharing scheme
Singapore launched its first electric car-sharing scheme in 2017, with plans to have a 1000-car fleet by next year.   (Photo credit: Hwee Yng Yeo)

The road ahead to transform Singapore’s transport system will undoubtedly be an exciting one. Billions of dollars3 are being pumped into transport infrastructure projects. The government is also driving a ‘car-lite’ policy to maintain zero-growth of private vehicles while improving rail and bus services, including efforts to pump up self-driving bus services. The buzz is certainly building, with key industry players converging in Singapore for the Annual Autonomous Vehicles and Electric Vehicles Asia shows in March this year. Both drivers, commuters and the industry can expect to experience more game-changing technologies in areas of connected car communications, autonomous driving and e-mobility as innovations go through the exhaustive drills of testing for safety and performance to make the intelligent and e-mobile car of the future a reality soon.  


1 Worldwide Cost of Living 2018

2 Technical Reference 68

3 Improving Singapore’s land transport in 2019