The company that supplies most of Hong Kong’s taxis is urging the government to broaden its coming road map for electric vehicles (EVs) to include hybrid models as well, calling it an interim step towards the city’s long-term goal of phasing out fossil fuel vehicles. In an exclusive interview with the Post , Michael Chan Ting-bond, chief operating officer of Inchcape Greater China, warned the city’s air quality would be compromised for years to come if the government’s plan encompasses only battery-powered vehicles. “We are very supportive of the government in respect of promotion of EVs,” Chan said. “But we should focus on what’s the next right thing. We should look at all the available options and set a priority for different time frames. “If the government only sticks to one option, which may take a long time to be in place, I worry the EV road map would become an unachievable aspiration,” he said. Inchcape is the parent company of Crown Motors, sole distributor of Toyota taxis in Hong Kong, which account for about 98 per cent of the city’s 18,163 cabs. The company also holds an 80 per cent market share of the city’s minibuses. If the government only sticks to one option, which may take a long time to be in place, I worry the EV road map would become an unachievable aspiration Michael Chan, Inchcape Greater China chief operating officer Early last year, they launched Toyota’s “Comfort Hybrid” taxis in the city as part of a plan to phase out the existing cabs powered by liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), which the Japanese manufacturer no longer produces. Chan’s call follows Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing saying in February that the government was engaging stakeholders as it formulated the city’s first concerted effort to popularise EVs. The road map, due in early 2021, falls under the city’s Clean Air Plan and will spell out the government’s vision and targets for phasing out all fossil fuel vehicles, and switching to zero-emission EVs for private cars as well as commercial and public transport. Chan said they had met environmental officials about the road map, expressing their view that the government should adopt a flexible approach to its definition of “EV”. “Other places such as Singapore or Shenzhen have also adopted hybrid cars as clean energy vehicles, which are given tax concessions under their EV policies,” he said. Budget push to electric minibuses, cross-harbour ferries by 2023 The motor firm made the proposal as Chan pointed out that Hong Kong had been slow in promoting the use of EVs, particularly for commercial vehicles. As announced in this year’s budget, the Environment Bureau will allocate HK$80 million (US$10 million) for the purchase of 40 electric minibuses and to set up charging facilities along their routes. The push for electric public transport comes along with a HK$2 billion (US$257 million) pilot scheme, to subsidise the installation of electric vehicle parking spaces in private housing estates in a bid to increase adoption of green cars. As of June, Hong Kong had about 15,223 electric cars, accounting for just 2.4 per cent of all private vehicles in the city. However, EV trial schemes for public buses are still in the infancy stage, while the first battery-powered taxi trials fell through in 2017. The long charging times for cabs were viewed as unsuitable for vehicles that typically operate around the clock. At the time, a spokesman for the Environmental Bureau said: “High production cost, limited service life, long charging time and low energy density of e-vehicle batteries are the key constraints for electric vehicles taking up commercial transport duties.” The bureau also previously said that given the time needed to identify suitable e-taxi models and build a comprehensive charging network, it had no concrete timetable for replacing cabs that relied on fossil fuels. First hybrid Toyota taxis hit Hong Kong roads Those challenges were precisely why the government should consider the use of other eco-friendly vehicles as an interim measure, Chan argued, calling on the city to provide financial incentives that would allow taxi owners to make the switch to the greener model. He said the new hybrid taxis, which included wheelchair access, would not only slash carbon dioxide emissions, but cut fuel bills by at least half to about HK$100 per day. The new vehicles get about 19.4km (12 miles) per litre of LPG, compared with only about 9.8km for the old taxis. At present there are about 1,200 hybrid taxis on the city’s streets. “For the government to successfully push for e-taxis, we envisage that it will take at least nine years. Does it mean that during these nine years, the government will do nothing about the old LPG-powered taxis? Then the city’s air quality will continue to suffer,” he warned. Back up environmental talk with action on electric cars, ombudsman says Locky Law, director of education at ChargedHK, a non-profit group that promotes electric vehicle use, said the government could consider offering short-term incentives for taxi drivers to switch to hybrid models, if the official data offered by the hybrid carmakers was trustworthy, and if there was evidence to prove that hybrid taxis emitted lower emissions. “If the widespread use of e-taxis is still a long way down the road and the hybrid taxis are proven to emit lower emissions, the government could consider offering short-term incentives for their use,” Law said. A spokesman for the Environment Bureau said the government had “spared no effort” in promoting the use of EVs and was implementing measures to enhance charging infrastructure. “The government is working on the EV road map and will consider relevant measures for further promoting the use of EVs in Hong Kong,” he said.