At last. The Hong Kong Automobile Association (HKAA) is stepping up its image with a revised range of services for members. It has to. 'We used to have almost 20,000 members when there were fewer cars on the road; now we just have 11,000,' an association official told Foot Down last week. The non-profit organisation was set up in 1918, says committee member Wong Tai, who adds it is 'the third-oldest surviving automobile association in Asia, beaten only by the Ceylon AA  and the Ikataan Motor Club in Indonesia , and if you take the entire Asia-Pacific region we are the fifth-oldest - the New Zealand AA and the American Automobile Association [both 1902] are the only ones in that area of the globe that are still surviving today.' Wong says the HKAA is drawing on its long traditions of service in its effort to be the pre-eminent motorists' organisation in Asia. 'Part of this involves returning the association to a more traditional image - in fact the repositioning of [it] as Hong Kong's third emergency service - that of a disciplined, professional, members-orientated [body] of which members can be proud,' he says. The HKAA has re-adopted its original badge, added minor modifications to reflect its Chinese heritage, and designed new uniforms for its 16 patrolmen, six of whom have served Hong Kong motorists for more than 10 years. The new look, Wong says, goes 'with the traditional, disciplined image, so that members will not only be proud of their staff, but also, like the police or the Fire Services, be instantly recognisable, in any, especially emergency, situation'. The organisation's breakdown and recovery facility has been renamed Emergency Rescue Service. 'New, modern cars don't break down any more, but they do suffer from punctures, even modern batteries go flat with Hong Kong's high humidity, and sadly, accidents do happen and in such circumstances members need rescuing by the association,' Wong says. 'New types of equipment are being operationally reviewed so we can cope with the heaviest of vehicles such as the new Rolls-Royce and Mercedes-Benz range, as well as the increasingly popular four-wheel-drive vehicles, the lowest of vehicles such as the new Ferraris and Lamborghinis and the heaviest of two-wheelers such as the new Harley-Davidson.' The organisation also plans to cut response times. 'We can be at a breakdown within 45 minutes of a call, but would like to reduce that to 30 minutes in 75 per cent of cases,' says its chief executive Andrew Windebank, revealing plans for a new depot in the 'Yuen Long-Tuen Mun area' that could improve the organisation's logistics in the New Territories this year. But Foot Down is amazed the HKAA still sends a patrolman out in the rain to change a wheel for diddums. 'Our members have paid a $550 annual and $200 joining fees and that's part of the service.' says Windebank. The association is retaining its car-assessment programme in which its patrolmen will look over and test-drive a motor for $600 for members ($800 for non-members) in about 45 minutes. And Foot Down, the HKAA chief adds, has already played a part in the revival of the organisation's baby-seat service that ceased trade five years ago 'because we could not compete against cut-price operations. But having read your column [Foot Down's recent reminder of the paucity of product knowledge and fitting expertise in Hong Kong], we are sourcing suitable products that meet the latest European specifications', says Windebank. To join the internationally affiliated HKAA, call 2739 5273.