Call to cut registration tax to boost electric cars

THE Government has been urged to introduce drastic cuts in the first registration tax for electric vehicles to encourage drivers to switch from more-polluting motor engines.

Electric vehicles cost two to 21/2 times more than conventional vehicles fuelled by petrol and diesel, and are subject to the 120 per cent first registration tax levied on expensive cars.

But they cause much less pollution and a government working party is looking into their use as a way to alleviate air pollution, which is tipped to worsen by 60 per cent by the year 2000.

The inter-departmental working party was set up in October and will report in April on progress in its assessment of the feasibility, costs and benefits of making electric vehicles more widely available in the territory.

Professor Chan Ching-chuen of the University of Hongkong, who co-founded the World Electric Vehicle Association and advises governments and companies, said the working party should recommend a cut in the registration tax for electric vehicles.

''If they exempted the first registration fee, then the electric vehicle would be very promising,'' he said. ''Overall operating costs over an eight-year lifespan would be one-quarter to one-half the cost for a conventional car.'' Although electric vehicles' batteries need recharging - meaning power stations have to burn more polluting fuel - emissions from a few power stations were easier to control than those from thousands of vehicles.

Hongkong was an ideal place for electric vehicles because most driving was over short distances and at slow speeds, and electric cars did not run as fast or for as long as conventional ones, Professor Chan claimed.

Worldwide production of electric cars is expected to increase greatly as a result of a new law in California requiring two per cent of all vehicles to have zero emissions by 1998 and 10 per cent by 2010. Electric vehicles fit the requirement.

China Light and Power has bought 12 electric vehicles from Europe and North America for internal use and a spokesman said they would be ideal for commercial fleets which have garages where charging stations could be installed. Japan is also developing electric vehicles.

The Government working party is chaired by the Planning, Environment and Lands Branch and includes representatives from the Environmental Protection Department, Transport Branch and Department, Economic Services Branch, Electrical and Mechanical ServicesDepartment and the Government Land Transport Agency.