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HK Regulations Pull The Plug On Electric Car

Cheung Chi-fai – Mar 03, 2009 – SCMP

An electric vehicle developed in Hong Kong will hit the European market this year, but it cannot be registered as a passenger car in its city of origin because it fails to meet design standards, the manufacturer said.

Europe, which recognises microcars as a category of vehicles, has already given the nod to the two-seater, battery-driven MyCar, which has been hailed as the first Hong Kong car made for export.

The car is expected to start selling in Britain for no more than HK$100,000 each.

But its debut in Hong Kong would not be possible unless the city also recognises microcars, said local company EuAuto Technology.

In his budget speech last week Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah unveiled plans to promote the use of electric cars in the city through tax concessions and by building a recharging infrastructure.

EuAuto Technology, which had developed the car with a total investment of about HK$70 million, including HK$2 million of initial funding from the government, had set up an assembly line in Shenzhen to manufacture the vehicles.

But Chung Sin-ling, the company’s chief executive, said local drivers had to wait longer to own the car because there was no way to register it in the city without greatly changing its unique lightweight design and lower maximum speed.

The car fully complied with European standards, she said. But it was unlikely to meet the existing requirements on structure and seat-belt designs for conventional private cars here, as well as pass crash tests.

A microcar is a light vehicle that weighs less than 400kg excluding battery, and cannot travel faster than 45km/h. In some European countries, the car is confined to intra-town travel and driving it on highways may be prohibited.

The car also would not be required to take a crash test in Europe.

Ms Chung said the company was willing to talk to the Transport Department about creating a new vehicle category – at an appropriate time – but she hoped the department would first issue more special licences to test the car in various locations, such as Discovery Bay.

Eric Cheng Ka-wai, a professor of electrical engineering at Polytechnic University, said Hong Kong should introduce a microcar vehicle class and relevant regulations to encourage the use of emissions-free cars like MyCar.

He said it was not reasonable to expect a small carmaker to meet all vehicle design standards that have been developed by major car manufacturers over past decades, especially when the car was designed for its environmental benefits.

“The car should have few safety problems, given that motorcycles are allowed on the road.”

The Transport Department said yesterday the MyCar could only be used at the MTR train depot in Siu Ho Wan under a special licence. But it refused to say if it was willing to change registration requirements for the car. “The car is not fully compliant to the requirements of the Road Traffic (Vehicle Construction and Maintenance) Ordinance and is still unsuitable for use on highways,” it said without elaborating.

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