By James Wong
Singaporeans have a grown a rather distorted view of car ownership and how it’s exclusively reserved only for those who can afford it. It’s fair of course – our taxes make owning cars one of the most expensive purchases one can ever make, possibly even more so than owning a house in some cases. Blimey.
A British friend recently told me about his plans after graduation. He’s a final year student, and will be a practicing dentist with the NHS in about a year’s time. Seems like any typical student then. I then ventured to ask him what he’ll use to drive to work.
‘I’ll probably get a new BMW 320d, one of ‘em diesels.’
‘What, brand new?’
‘Yeah brand new, they’re cheap under leasing schemes.’
You see, for an aspiring new dentist, driving a brand new 320d is normal business. He can afford it with his pay, and it suits his status, his profession. In a normal world (well, for petrolheads at least), we would be driving a nice BMW when we’re on to a good job when we’re in our twenties. Not an M, or indeed not even a mid-range 328i, but we’ll be happy with a base BMW, because that’s where we stand. Same for a newly trained teacher in Britain, who will probably drive a Vauxhall Astra, or a plumber from Essex, who will drive a Ford Focus. In the UK, car ownership is normal and an accepted norm. You own what you ordinarily should be able to own.
Sadly, in Singapore it’s all twisted. It’s like something out of a horror film. Instead of being in the seat of a BMW M3, a veteran investment banker would likely find himself weezing about in a A4 1.8T multitronic. Instead of a Porsche Boxster S, a new doctor will probably not even drive to work, for traffic is too bad and it’s obnoxious to see a doctor drive a nice car anyway, in the eyes of a prowing public waiting to Stomp you. And even if he did drive to work, he’ll probably rocking a Camry.
Now I have nothing against the A4 or the Camry, but it just doesn’t gel. You should own what you ordinarily should be able to own. But car prices are inflated to such a galactic extent that they are as much a mode of transport as they are a status symbol. So instead of letting Singaporeans drive what they should ordinarily drive, had they been born in the US or in the UK, they are relegated to suffer something below their supposedly standard of living. And we’re allowing ourselves to be defeated if we continue to buy not-so-great cars that are more badge engineering hogwash than a truly fun car.
And that’s just sad. Really sad.
If I were to be a journalist or a lowly executive in the future, I’ll be pretty damn sure I will not subject myself to suffer below average machines. You may be thinking I can easily write this article and say what I said, because money doesn’t matter to me. No, it does. And I feel just as fecked as you about owning a car in our island. But the comforting thing, and the light in all of the COE thunderstorm, is that fun doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money. I’ll still go for motoring greats, despite everything that conspires against me from owning one. Even if it means I’ll be driving a 20 year old MX-5 or a ‘COE car’ E39 528i. Because some standards need to be upheld, including the type of cars we drive and their motoring goodness.