On the surface, Chinese carmaker BYD (01211.HK) is gaining solid mileage as its electric taxicabs and buses roll into a growing number of major cities around the world, including Hong Kong, London, Taipei, Rotterdam and Los Angeles. Macau may be the latest to embrace its e-vehicles; the company announced that it has shipped several units of its e-bus for road tests in the top gambling destination.
Analysts say BYD is deploying a backdoor strategy to win over buyers at home. At the rate its electric vehicles are being embraced abroad, Chinese buyers may start giving BYD a second look.
An ingenious scheme notwithstanding, recent reports suggest that the Shenzhen-based firm is running into some solid roadblocks in Hong Kong, BYD’s vital springboard for internationalization.
Hong Kong’s Apple Daily reported in December that there were just 26 BYD e-taxis running in the territory, and many of the owners have reportedly indicated that they would switch back to routine gasoline-fueled models after the obviously not so pleasant trial use.
Just last May, BYD shipped the first consignment of e-taxis to Hong Kong with much fanfare. A senior company executive estimated at the time that 45 units would be introduced by the end of 2013 and the number would surge to no less than 3,000 by 2015.
BYD splurged in promoting its e-cars in the city. Local media said the firm sold its e6 marques to taxi operators at a generous 50 percent discount and footed the bill for installing superchargers while throwing in a one-year free charging guarantee. BYD’s highly touted cost-effectiveness served as a convincing pitch — fuel cost per kilometer is just 30 HK cents, or only a third of that of traditional cars, according to the firm’s PR releases.
All this should provide a strong incentive for Hong Kong users, but sadly, actual feedback points to the opposite – BYD’s Hong Kong ride has not skirted long-existing barriers to the growth of e-cars.
As of December, BYD only has eight supercharger stations in Hong Kong but none of them is located in the core business areas. Cabbies complain that the long charging hours — two hours for a full circle — are taking too much of their time. And the mileage — less than 200 kilometers per full charging — apparently fails to meet actual demand as a taxi typically runs 300-400 km per day.
BYD’s e-buses aren’t having a smooth journey either. Back in September, Kowloon Motor Bus Co. (KMB), Hong Kong’s largest franchised bus operator, launched trials of BYD’s battery-powered K9A model. But the bus was recently returned to the carmaker. A source close to the bus operator revealed to Apple Daily that there won’t be any BYD e-buses running in KMB’s fleet as the operator is somewhat concerned about BYD’s inadequacy in making buses and coaches to its satisfaction.
This coincides with the rumor that KMB chose imported parts ranging from axles and brakes to seats and air conditioners, instead of using BYD’s own accessories for the K9A trial. Apple Daily even reported that KMB would switch to electric and hybrid buses supplied by British bus manufacturer Alexander Dennis and German truck giant MAN.
A professor with the Hong Kong Polytechnic University who is the inventor of the territory’s first electric car, traced BYD’s troubles to its charging format, which he said is incompatible with the more popular European and Japanese standards. While the installation cost of BYD’s self-developed chargers is just a fraction of that of the other two, it comes at a heavy price, namely, longer charging hours.
The Hong Kong Economic Journal reports that on top of 146 existing European/Japanese-type charging stations across Hong Kong, power company CLP will introduce superchargers that incorporate both standards and further reduce charging time to 30 minutes.
Unfortunately, BYD e-car owners may have none of this enhanced convenience and efficiency — at least for now.
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