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BYD charges ahead with Hong Kong e-taxi plans

BYD Co makes rechargeable batteries and cars in Shenzhen in Guangdong province. Founded in February 1995, and listed in Hong Kong in 2002, the origin of the company’s name is uncertain, with some saying it could simply be an acronym based on its Chinese name or from the phrase “build your dreams”. BYD’s profile was raised in 2008 when a unit of billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway invested about US$230 million in BYD.

BYD chairman Wang Chuanfu laid out a bold plan yesterday to replace 3,000 taxis running on liquefied petroleum gas in Hong Kong with its e6 electric cars within two years.

But the city’s taxi owners were sceptical, as questions remain about who will pay for the electricity, who will build the charging facilities and who will pay for the car – which is twice the price of the popular Toyota cab.

After an eight-month delay, the first batch of 45 BYD electric taxis would finally roll out on to the streets of Hong Kong in May, Wang said yesterday.

But whether the e6 can be a new driver for the carmaker’s earnings is uncertain, with Wang admitting the first batch of vehicles – which will be leased, not sold, to taxi companies – will operate at a loss.

“It’s just 45 cars. If either we make a profit or a loss, it won’t be a big sum, but we will run the first batch at a loss as a trial,” he said.

It is understood that BYD will lease the 45 cars to taxi firm City Motors in a package that covers electricity costs, because the government will not let any party other than the two power suppliers sell electricity to an individual. That should not be an issue for now because owners of electric cars still enjoy free charging at the city’s 1,000 charging points, but career drivers will not be able to count on that for long.

BYD declined to specify details of the package at this stage.

Wang said he expected to add 1,000 e6 taxis in Hong Kong next year, and by 2015 the number would grow to 3,000.
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