Spate of breakdowns affected third of new taxis

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 April, 2010, 12:00am

A spate of breakdowns last year affected more than a third of Hong Kong's new four-seater taxis, as well as the older five-seaters.

But problems with the new vehicles were not included in a government review of the breakdowns because officials believed their problem was different from that of the older vehicles.

At the peak of the problems between September last year and January this year, 160 of the 410 four-seaters now in service broke down - a rate much higher than that for the five-seaters which was roughly one in four. A government task force set up to investigate the problems - which drivers and owners blamed on the quality of LPG supplied by oil company Sinopec - reached no firm conclusions. The government said the age of the taxis might have been a factor.

Toyota dealer Crown Motors, which supplies most of the taxis on Hong Kong's roads, said the problem with the four-seaters had been traced to chlorine deposits in the fuel pump.

The manufacturer is now investigating how the substance, not usually found in LPG, got there.

Crown Motors denied it was caused by faulty design but told a taxi union yesterday it would pay the repair costs for the affected vehicles, about HK$10,000, regardless of when the warranties expired.

Toyota's Japan headquarters stopped producing five-seater taxis in August 2008 in a bid to meet higher environmental standards.

Since January last year all taxis imported into Hong Kong were four-seater versions with a different engine design from the older models.

The vast majority of the 18,000 taxis in Hong Kong are still five-seater. The manager of Crown Motors' public vehicle section, David Lee Kai-cheung, said the bearing coating of the fuel pump in the affected four-seaters had been eroded by chlorine.

Lee said Toyota was now studying how chlorine got into the pumps, but the manufacturer believed there was no problem with the design.

'Nearly 15,000 LPG taxis in Japan are of the same design and they never have any trouble.'

LPG specialist Chan Fu-shing said that unlike sulphur and carbon monoxide, chlorine was not found in LPG and it should not be generated from any chemical reaction between the gas and other materials in a car.

Task force member Ringo Lee Yiu-pui said: 'The breakdowns of the new four-seater taxis may have a different reason than the five-seater ones,' he said.

'If there is something in the gas that erodes the gas pump, it should have eroded the pump of the five-seaters as well.'

In the review, officials found irregularities in Sinopec's processing of LPG, but did not find anything wrong with the gas that could have caused the breakdowns.