Media Muzzled over fatal electric taxi fire

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 May, 2012, 12:00am


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Guangdong propaganda authorities have urged local media not to report anything critical about electric cars or BYD Auto after one its e6 taxis burst into flames in a Shenzhen crash, killing its driver and two passengers.

The fire, which happened after a sports car rear-ended the taxi early on Saturday, has raised concerns about the safety of the all-electric vehicle and pummelled the Shenzhen-based BYD's shares.

The incident and its possible repercussions were widely covered in the Guangdong media on Sunday, until outlets were ordered to stop discussing whether a design flaw could have caused the fire.

'Yes, we received the directive today from the provincial authorities,' said a journalist at one government-support newspaper who refused to give her name. 'We were told that it's fine to report the latest development of the accident but any news angle of electric cars and the vehicle maker is not allowed.'

Another Shenzhen-based journalist said: 'We had planed to develop an online debate about the safety of electric cars. But we have had to drop it and must restrict ourselves to the official statement by Shenzhen police.'

BYD said it was not aware of the directive and had not raised the issue with authorities.

'We are sorry for the accident and will co-operate with authorities to investigate the cause,' BYD spokesman Jiang Yinjie said. 'So far, we do not have any comment about the results of the crash investigation.'

BYD's shares fell 2.58 per cent to close at 23.75 yuan (HK$28.97) amid an overall gain of 2.22 per cent on the Shenzhen Composite Index. Shares listed in Hong Kong dropped 5.9 per cent to HK$15.24.

BYD, which released the e6 in October, has been using the car in an electric fleet it holds partial ownership of since last May.

About 300 e6 taxis and 200 all-electric BYD buses are operating in the city.

The company has attracted backing from billionaire US investor Warren Buffett.

Shenzhen officials had hoped BYD's success could help make the city the electric car capital of China.

The sports car ran into the electric taxi at 3am before hitting another vehicle, causing a fire that killed the male taxi driver and two passengers.

The driver of the sports car, who, like his three female passengers suffered only light injuries, fled the scene. A man turned himself into police on Sunday. Police believe he had been drinking.

But local media questioned whether the man who turned himself had been hired by the real offender to take the fall.

Quoting witnesses, The Southern Metropolis News said the driver went to Huaqiaocheng Hospital for treatment for a face injury but the man who turned himself in on Sunday did not have any injuries.