HK may put brakes on electric taxis

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 June, 2012, 12:00am


The Hong Kong government is seeking to tighten the standard of electric vehicles imported into the city after an accident sparked a fire in a BYD electric car last month, killing three people in Shenzhen.

The accident caused public concern over the safety of electric cars and may put on hold or at least delay a BYD plan to ship 45 of its e6 models - the one that caught fire - into Hong Kong for use as taxis by August.

It was understood a report into the accident, expected to be released by the end of this month, would rule out the car's battery standard as a cause of the fire. However, a person informed of the findings said BYD would be urged to improve the protective material around the battery, known as the battery wrap or casing.

Electronics experts said the safety standard of car batteries was now fairly high, but it was the protection around them that determined how severe the damage would be in the case of impact.

At present, Hong Kong refers to standards set by the European Union, United States and mainland China in assessing the safety standards of imported electric cars. However Ringo Lee Yiu-pui, chairman of the Vehicle Repair Merchants Association, said none of these standards provided a very clear benchmark on battery protection.

'Some automakers like Ford have their own set of definitions and guidelines on the battery wrap, and there is also a non-binding guideline on battery wraps issued by a US-based standard-setting organisation, SAE International,' Lee said. 'But they are not embedded in the national standards which we follow.'

The government has set up an expert team comprising officials from the Transport Department, Electrical and Mechanical Services Department, Environmental Protection Department and independent experts, to review whether the city should tighten or devise its own standards for electric vehicles. They will hold their first meeting today.

'We should study overseas examples - including Japanese carmakers, for example - and pick out the best standards for us,' said Chan Ching-chuen - a University of Hong Kong professor dubbed the 'father of electric vehicles' because of his long-term research. He said the government should put on hold the trial of 45 e6 taxis in Hong Kong until Beijing released its findings on the accident.

On May 26, a sports car crashed into a BYD e6 electric taxi at high speed, ramming it into a tree. The electric car caught fire and three people inside it were killed.

Brandon Tong Yeuk-fung, chairman of the taxi owner group who will pay about HK$18 million to help buy the 45 cars, said officials would not be justified in delaying the trial just because of the accident. Half of the cars' cost would be covered by the government's green transport fund.

'The sports car was being driven at 180 kilometres per hour at the time. Even a Ferrari would have caught fire or even exploded,' Tong said. 'I just can't see how a car running on petrol or liquefied petroleum gas would be safer than an electric one.'

The taxi industry is eager to find a replacement for the LPG taxi, given the escalating fuel prices.

BYD's e6 - which has the longest range among the world's electric cars - met standard tests in mainland China, and received four out of five stars in the United States test. It is understood the carmaker will soon provide Hong Kong authorities with an e6 for crash testing and will also put it to the test under the EU standards.