Tesla plugs into need to go fast
Hong Kong ranks as one of electric carmaker Tesla Motors' biggest markets in the world on a per-capita basis, according to a senior regional executive at the California-based company.
Globally, Tesla sells about 600 of its super-fast Roadster cars per year, and sales in Hong Kong have already reached several dozen units since they were launched locally a year ago, according to director of Asia-Pacific retail operations Kevin Yu.
'We have more sales here than most people would think,' Yu said. 'It's not only the local demand, but Hong Kong serves as a hub for Chinese-speaking parts of Asia.'
Tesla earlier this month opened a permanent service centre in Tsuen Wan, its third in the region after similar facilities were opened in Japan and Australia. 'We're here to stay,' Yu said.
The Tesla Roadster, which accelerates from 0 to 100km/hr in 3.7 seconds and features a carbon-fibre body, is a limited-edition model designed to prove that drivers of electric cars need not sacrifice performance.
The vehicle's positioning as a premium sports car means it can offset battery cost issues, which make most mass-market electric cars uncompetitive with their petrol cousins on both price and performance.
The Roadster, which retails from HK$1.07 million, is one of only three mass-produced, pure-electric models available for sale in Hong Kong. Mitsubishi's tiny i-MiEV sells from HK$395,000, while Nissan's Leaf retails in the United States from US$35,200 and is available in Hong Kong for fleet sales. Both models have been purchased by the government and the two local power companies, among others.
Hong Kong has only 170 pure-electric cars on the road, Environment Secretary Edward Yau Tang-wah said earlier this month. This is despite having more than 300 public electric car charging stations, which now outnumber petrol stations.
'Convincing the Hong Kong and Japanese consumer that we're here to stay and the technology is mature is harder than in California,' Yu says. 'But the performance helps. The second the guy takes the car up and down The Peak, or out to Stanley and back, if they've got the cash, the car is sold,' he said. Battery-powered cars offer instant torque because they do not need to wait for the engine to respond or to cycle through gear changes. In the Roadster's case, that translates into just over 40kg-metre of torque and 288 horsepower from the first touch of the pedal.
Powered by a lithium-ion battery composed of 6,831 cells, the car has a driving range of 400 kilometres on a full charge. From zero, the battery takes 16 hours to charge fully on a standard Hong Kong wall socket, or four hours on an optional HK$15,000 fast-charging unit.
Yu says the Hong Kong government's exemption of First Registration Tax for electric cars, due to expire in 2014 unless it is renewed, has effectively knocked HK$1 million off the Roadster's local retail price. 'The folks who know about that realised this is a once-in-a-lifetime deal, and they've bought,' he said.
Tesla launched retail operations in Singapore last year at the same time as Hong Kong, but has since exited the city state as rumours of government tax breaks for electric cars failed to materialise. 'We're not doing Singapore any more and have focused all our energy on Hong Kong,' Yu said.
Next year, Tesla aims to transform from a niche maker of electric sports cars to a mainstream player with the launch of the seven-seat Model S luxury car. 'If the S comes out as we expect it to, it's going to juice the entire electric vehicle market, not just Tesla,' Yu said.