Ford steps on the gas for Hong Kong taxi market share
US car company among a fleet of contenders charging into city's cab sector to challenge Toyota's dominance with LPG-powered engines
For the first time in a decade commuters will be spoiled for choice when hailing a taxi in the city.
Following on the tail of carmakers BYD, Nissan, and a local Fiat dealer, the biggest commercial carmaker in the United States, Ford Motor, says it also wants a piece of Hong Kong's taxi market, which Toyota has dominated since 2003.
But instead of contending for market share with an electric vehicle, it is offering a car powered by liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).
"LPG has significant advantages over electric options, which require sufficient charging stations that are not yet available in Hong Kong," said Hal Feder, Ford's director for export and growth.
BYD, Nissan, and Fiat's local dealer all plan to introduce electric taxis for trial later this year, despite the serious shortage of quick-charging facilities in the city.
Only about 10 per cent of the 1,000 public charging stations around Hong Kong can fully recharge an electric car within an hour, while others take more than 10 hours.
Ford said it would bring in an upgraded version of its Transit Connect, a car used as a taxi in many US cities.
The company said the model had a more spacious interior than the existing Toyota Comfort, with sliding doors and more headroom.
Feder said the car model was tailor-made for Hong Kong's taxi market, although Ford has its eyes ultimately on wider horizons.
"Hong Kong may be a small market, but it has tourists visiting from all over the world. It provides a perfect setting to showcase our … product," he said.
The Transit Connect is expected to be launched around July.
While Feder remained tightlipped about the car's running cost, he said operational expenses could be lower than those for existing Toyota cabs.
Over the past two years Ford has adopted an expansionary strategy in the Asia-Pacific in what many see as a bid to play catch-up after an overcautious approach lost it many opportunities in mainland China to rival General Motors.
At the Beijing Auto Show last year, Ford unveiled a plan to introduce 15 new cars to mainland China by 2015.
The company has also returned to Hong Kong's car sector with a new dealership that will be responsible for helping it launch as many as eight models in the city in the next 18 months.
Various carmakers have expressed interest in tapping Hong Kong's 18,135-strong taxi market since the government announced a raft of measures last year, including the creation of a HK$300 million "green transport fund" to support the use of environmentally friendly cars to cut roadside emissions.
But ultimately it is the mainland market that Ford has sets its sights on, after Beijing last year announced an ambitious plan to produce 500,000 electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2015.
In light of the challenges, Toyota said last month it would introduce its most popular hybrid cars.
Nissan, which lost out to Toyota in Hong Kong's taxi market 10 years ago, also said it would introduce an LPG model before the introduction early next year of electric cars the Leaf and the e-NV200.
BYD's much-delayed introduction of 45 of its E6 electric taxis might finally happen after the Lunar New Year.