Electric carmaker BYD Automobile said it would consider building a multi-storey charging tower in Hong Kong if the government provided land and policy support.
The move would be part of the company's ambitious plan to convert the city's 18,138 taxis fuelled by liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) into electric cars. The success of that plan will depend largely on a trial run in which more than 40 electric taxis are to hit Hong Kong roads later this year.
Brandon Tong Yeuk-fung, chairman of the Hong Kong Taxi and Public Light Bus Association, said it would buy about 40 BYD e6 cars to be used as taxis if the firm could provide a means to charge their batteries.
BYD's ultimate goal is to have several charging towers in the city - each about six storeys high, with quick-charge outlets for 240 taxis plus dining facilities and shops. That would allow taxi drivers to relax and have a meal during the charging process, which takes up to an hour.
'The concept is similar to the nine government-subsidised LPG stations in Hong Kong. Taxi drivers get cheaper gas there because the government waived the land premium for the stations,' said Paul Lin, senior manager of overseas marketing for BYD.
'Without government support, it is very difficult to promote the use of green vehicles, because developers have to factor the cost of building the infrastructure into the tariff, which would push up costs for the users.'
Fuel companies were required to build the subsidised LPG stations, but there are no similar plans to get companies such as CLP to build charging towers. Lin said BYD would consider building the facility if that's what it takes to 'get things rolling'.
BYD's first taxi charging tower, which is to begin operation in Shenzhen in June, cost about 12 million yuan (HK$14.76 million).
If electric taxis prove themselves, it could be a boost for BYD's business. China Automotive Monthly said the carmaker sold only 92 e6 vehicles after the model's debut last October.
Some critics say the retail price of nearly 370,000 yuan is too expensive, even with a government subsidy of up to 120,000 yuan.
BYD argues, however, that the e6 would be a good investment for taxi operators, as electricity costs almost 40 per cent less than LPG for the same distance. With an average daily range of 500 to 600 kilometres, the operator could save more than HK$130,000 in one year.
Tong said that with government subsidies of half of the cost of an e-taxi under existing green policies, an operator could recover the investment in less than two years.
There are only 330 charging spots in Hong Kong at present, and most offer only outlets for standard charging, which takes hours.
'A few plugs at car parks or road-side parking spaces dedicated for e-taxis would be enough for us to launch the trial,' Tong said.
'It all depends on how serious the government is about promoting green transport.'
The Environmental Bureau said BYD had yet to submit a proposal for a charging tower.
Maximum speed, in km/h, of the e6, BYD's latest electric car, which it hopes will replace LPG-fuelled taxis in Hong Kong