BYD's electric taxis hit Hong Kong roads with big ambitions

Wed May 15, 2013 5:27am EDT
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By Lavinia Mo

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Warren Buffett-backed Chinese carmaker BYD Co Ltd rolled out Hong Kong's first electric taxi fleet on Wednesday, marking a milestone for its all-electric battery car that highlights its promise and its limitations.

"We expect to increase the number of e6 taxis in Hong Kong to 5,000 in three years," said Liu Xueliang, general manager of BYD Asia Pacific sales, after the company announced it is making a push in the former British colony to encourage the use of its all-electric e6 taxi.

The Hong Kong Taxi & Public Light Bus Association said it is renting from BYD an initial fleet of 45 taxis for HK$8,000 ($1,000) each per month, although only six vehicles had licenses so far. The association is BYD's only Hong Kong customer to date.

The e6's use in Hong Kong's taxi fleet points to the technology's promise as a "zero-tailpipe-emission" vehicle, but its high cost has resulted in sluggish sales for private use, the very demand that BYD had been counting on to boost sales.

The e6 sells for 369,800 yuan ($60,200) in mainland China and HK$448,000 ($57,700) in Hong Kong.

When BYD launched the car a few years ago in China, the e6 was intended for private use on the mainland and in the United States, but never quite caught on. BYD sold about 1,700 e6 vehicles in China last year, according to industry data.

The e6's failure to prove popular among everyday consumers is not only bad news for BYD, it illustrates how China's policy goal of putting 5 million "new-energy" cars on the road by 2020 is not going as planned.

China's central government defines new-energy cars as either all-electric battery cars or heavily electrified plug-in hybrid vehicles.   Continued...

A BYD E6 electric car, which will be used as a taxi, is seen plugged into a charging unit during a launch ceremony for the line of vehicles in Hong Kong, May 15, 2013. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu