25 March 2019
Mercedes-Benz has won a license to test Level 4 self-driving vehicles on Beijing roads. Photo: Reuters
Mercedes-Benz has won a license to test Level 4 self-driving vehicles on Beijing roads. Photo: Reuters

Driverless cars: Do they have a future in Hong Kong?

Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Daimler AG and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, noted in a conference in Hong Kong last week that Mercedes-Benz became the first non-Chinese firm to obtain a license for testing autonomous vehicles on Beijing roads.

“Not one of the easiest challenges, but that’s a good test. We are happy because China is the biggest market for us. And when we go for autonomous driving, we have to make sure that it works in China. Therefore this testing is extremely precious for us,” Zetsche said.

Now, what about the progress of autonomous vehicles in Hong Kong?

We do have a pilot zone for electric autonomous cars in Western Kowloon Cultural District.

However, I wonder if the Hong Kong government may impose restrictions on driverless cars when such vehicles become truly available in the market

Just look at what our government have done to electric cars, and you can get some idea.

The administration has removed first registration tax waiver for electric vehicles and capped it at HK$97,500 instead last year. That has pushed up the costs of buying electric cars dramatically.

The government has launched a tax break of up to HK$250,000 in a one-for-one replacement scheme in the last budget. But it has received lukewarm response in the market.

The city’s overall vehicle sales volume remains at normal level while electric car sales volume has dropped. That shows the government policy has failed to boost electric car sales. Hong Kong Science Park has even suspended the charging station for Tesla, citing traffic issues.

Policymakers still have a conservative mindset when it comes to some emerging industries, even though they keep talking about innovation. For example, emerging new industries like bike-sharing, ride-hailing, and home-sharing are all in the gray area in the city.

Hong Kong also lags behind others in 5G development.

As such, it’s really hard to be optimistic about the future of autonomous cars in the city.

If the government is serious about pushing innovation and technology, it better changes its mindset.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 17

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Information Technology Federation honorary chairman

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