Average Cost of COE

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The price of a COE should be a major consideration for any prospective car-owner, as depending on when you buy, the price of a COE may be even more expensive than the price of your car. As a result, it's helpful to have a general idea of what people are paying for them, especially as you consider what reserve price you'll need to be willing to pay to succeed in the bidding process. Just as important is an understanding of the main drivers of COE premiums that could you guide you through the COE purchase process. In the following article, we compare the average price of COEs in 2017 with prices from past years, and outline the primary factors that determine the cost of COEs.

Average Cost of COE

The following graph shows how the average COE price has changed over time from 2005 to the present day. As of February 2017, the average cost of COEs in 2017 was S$49,651. This does not reflect much of a change from 2016, which had an annual average cost of S$49,644.

Average Annual COE Cost from 2005 to 2017

Price of COEs in Feb-April 2017

The LTA has raised the monthly vehicle quota for February to April by an average of 8.9% since the November to January quarter. This represents an annual increase of 14% compared to the same period in 2016. Specifically, we will see an 11.3% increase QoQ in the number of COEs available for small cars (Category A), a 9.2% in the number available for big cars (Category B), and a 20.5% increase in COEs available in the Open Category E. This increase in the supply of COEs for the current quarter could contribute to downward pressure on COE prices, which could fall without a significant change in demand. Of note, COE quotas for Category C and D categories actually declined Q/Q, and may drive increased demand for Category E as applications for commercial vehicles flow into the Open Category.

Table A: Average Monthly Quota of COEs

Vehicle CategoryFeb-Apr '15Feb-Apr '16Nov-Jan '17Feb-Apr '17%Chg '15/'16%Chg '16/'17% Chg Q/Q
E (Open)362946799963+161.3%+2%+20.5%
Total4,7348,5358,0758,795Avg: 80%Avg: 14%Avg: 8.9%

Factors affecting COE prices

COE premiums are affected by changes in the supply and demand of COEs. Granted, it's not easy to predict with a high degree of certainty what will happen to COE prices in the future, as they fluctuate from month to month. However, having an awareness of the main factors that tend to affect COE premiums will help you to spot trends and make well-timed, smart decisions.

Supply Side

One of the biggest factors affecting COE prices is the supply of COEs available. The LTA regulates the number of cars on the road in Singapore, and when the LTA increases vehicle quotas, the supply of COEs increases and this applies a downward pressure on their price. Of the various factors that influence the vehicle quota, one of the most important things for you to pay attention to is the number of vehicle deregistrations. This number is highly variable and, even better, can be predicted based on publicly available data.

Currently, we are seeing a very high number of vehicles being deregistered, which is the main reason the vehicle quota has been relatively high through 2016 and 2017. This is because of extremely low COE prices in 2006 to 2008 which led to very high car sales in those years. As the COEs for those cars are now expiring after 10 years, a glut of COEs have become available and the LTA has increased the vehicle quota in response.*

The table below displays the number of new cars aged less than 1 year from 2006 to 2017, demonstrating the high car sales from 2006 to 2008 compared to following years. Though some owners of these cars chose to renew their COEs on these 10-year-old vehicles, the vast majority did not, resulting in higher car deregistration. In response to a rise in car deregistration, the LTA has increased COE quotas to control the population of cars.

Table B: Number of New Cars in Singapore by Year

Year# of Cars Aged 0 - <1

As the same factors that influenced 2016's higher supply of COEs are at play in 2017, it makes sense that the vehicle quotas and COE premiums we are seeing in 2017 are, on average, quite similar to those in 2016.** The high number of cars sold between 2006 and 2008 are being deregistered between 2016 and 2018, and vehicle quota for Category A, B and E (most relevant for non-commercial drivers) increased accordingly in 2016 in response, increasing an average of 112.4% since 2015. As car sales continued to be relatively high through 2008, it seems likely that vehicle quotas will stay fairly consistent into the near future.

Demand Side

Demand for COEs among consumers also plays a significant factor into the prices of COEs. Higher demand drives up COE premiums, whereas lower demand drives them down. There are a number of factors that influence demand that you should pay attention to.

Economic Conditions

Generally speaking, when the economy isn't doing well, demand tends to be lower. This is because for COEs to be in demand, people need to be buying cars. During bad economic times, fewer people do. Singapore is currently experiencing a slowdown in economic growth, and the value of the Singapore dollar has fallen. With a weaker dollar in Singapore, imported cars become less affordable, which would tend to have a negative effect on car sales -- and demand for COEs.

Interest rates play a role in this regard as well. Due to high car prices, the majority of Singaporeans take out car loans to buy their vehicles. When interest rates are high, people are disincentivized to take out loans, which has a negative effect on car sales and demand for COEs. At present, interest rates in Singapore are still quite low. However, they are expected to increase in the coming months, which, combined with a slowing Singapore economy and uncertainty about global economic conditions, may depress car sales and COE demand.

Our findings suggest that demand for COEs is indeed relatively low at present, tracking with the slowdown of Singapore's GDP growth over the last four years. In Category A (small cars), for example, the ratio of number of bids to COEs available have declined significantly since its peak in 2013, when the number of bids doubled the number of COEs actually available. Meanwhile, in 2017, there have thus far been only 30% more bids in Category A than allocated COEs. This suggests that demand for COEs relative to their supply has been in decline since 2013.

Table C: Ratio of Demand to Supply of COEs

YearCOE QuotaBidsRatio of Bids to Quota

Government Regulations

Another factor that can affect demand for COEs is the passage of new government regulations, such as emission standards. For example, Singapore has implemented more stringent and extensive emission standards under the new Vehicular Emissions Scheme (VES) that will take effect in 2018. These regulations, which will impose tax surcharges on more models and disqualify more from tax rebates than previously, will apply upward pressure on overall car prices. Higher car prices tend to have a negative effect on car sales and COE demand.

On the flip side, if many consumers think car prices will rise after this policy goes into effect in 2018, they could respond by rushing to the showroom to buy affected models before prices go up. In the short term, this would increase car sales and demand for COEs.

As these new emission standards were only announced in March 2017, it is difficult to predict what exactly their effect will be on the car market and COE prices. If you're thinking about buying a car within the next year or two, it would be a good idea to keep an eye on how consumers, car dealerships and automakers react, and to find out if the models you're interested in will be affected.

*In 2016, roughly 27% of cars turning 10 years old had their COEs renewed; as of February, 2017, about 32% have. This reflects a huge increase in the number of people who are choosing to renew COEs rather than deregister their cars as they turn 10 years old.

**While the total vehicle quota has increased by 14% since this time last year (the February-April quarter in 2016), this growth is mostly the result of over 100% growth in the motorcycle quota, Category D.

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