The time may have come to put the conventional gas-guzzling car in the garage and replace it with a compact electric vehicle. With fuel prices in a state of flux and our environmental vandalism becoming ever more apparent, demand for electric vehicles, or EVs, is increasing.
Hong Kong can be proud in the knowledge that a locally developed EV is attempting to lead the charge for clean-fuel microcars overseas, starting in Europe. The conservatively branded MyCar is an electric microcar - defined as a small, fuel-efficient car, powered by petrol engines of up to 700cc or electricity - manufactured by Kwai Chung-based EuAuto Technology, with funding from the Hong Kong government.
The MyCar was unveiled in Britain in January with a sticker price of £8,995 (HK$99,824). It comes in seven colours including pearl white and metallic green. The two-seater EV, made from fibreglass-reinforced plastic body panels, has a maximum speed of 64km/h and can travel 112km on a full charge. It takes six to eight hours to completely power the car.
EuAuto chief executive Chung Sin-ling says the MyCar should appeal to eco-conscious Britain, which has so far built a network of 73 public battery-charging stations, mostly in London. Owners who join the EV Network can charge their cars at the homes of other members.
The vehicle’s top speed might seem slow but it should be enough for London motorists, who drive at an average speed of 16km/h - about 3km/h slower than horse-drawn carriages travelled in Edwardian times.
Precisely because a microcar cannot hurtle around at high speeds, the accident rate is half that of standard cars, says Chung, who estimates microcar insurance and running costs should be about 25 per cent lower the conventional vehicles. Better yet, the MyCar is exempt from road tax as well as central London’s £8 daily congestion charge. In addition, in designated areas of the city, the typical £4-per-hour parking fee is being waived for EVs.
“We expect to get some very good sales over the next few months,” says Chung, noting the MyCar’s low running costs, zero carbon emissions and convenience for short-distance travel.
Unfortunately, the British MyCar launch ran into the heaviest snowfalls the country has seen in 18 years and the vehicle has so far registered only four sales.
EuAuto’s MyCar initiative was originally funded by Hong Kong’s Innovation and Technology Commission. The microcar’s driving system was co-developed with the Electrical and Electronic Engineering Department of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, while its initial design is credited to Italian car designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. Lee Tak-chi, a professor at Polytechnic University’s School of Design, was involved in the design of the prototype, introduced at the 2003 Bologna Motor Show, in Italy.
Peter Sun, chairman of EuAuto, points out that the MyCar’s future plans include a coupe, a four-seater and a pick-up.
Chung says the target markets for MyCar do not include Hong Kong - not because of safety issues but because “there is no such thing as a microcar in Hong Kong”. In other words, there is no classification that covers such a vehicle and would allow for its licensing.
The usual snag with EVs is that they handle badly but Chung describes the MyCar - which weighs 726kg with batteries - as “very stable” and capable of turning in a tight circle. The car measures 2.6 metres by 1.4 metres by 1.4 metres with a ground clearance of 12cm. Its maximum load is 200kg. The MyCar also needs minimal upkeep. “Besides its four-battery pack, there is nothing else that needs maintenance,” says Chung, adding that the car’s Italian-made parts should last a long time because they are made from the highest quality materials. It also has electric windows and central locking.
“You get a lot more features and functionality,” says Chung, noting that rival microcars from France and India are comparatively clunky. “And, of course, by emitting less carbon dioxide you’re also saving the world.”
There is, however, some uncertainty over the MyCar’s battery. Currently made of lead-absorbent glass mat cells, it will be upgraded to lithium. The change will probably increase both the vehicle’s mileage and the cost of the battery.
Early last century, American industrialist Henry Ford, father of the modern assembly line, teamed up with inventor Thomas Edison on a doomed mission to introduce an EV to the market.
Interest in electric vehicles was rekindled in the late 1960s and again in the 70s, following the Arab oil embargo.
Innovation consultant Jeff Lindsay paints a bright future for the MyCar, which he describes as “impressively styled”.
“It may be a compelling vehicle for urban dwellers, who rarely need to exceed 64km/h,” says Lindsay, adding that a microcar that can deliver basic performance and convenience should do well in today’s market. He warns, however, that pricing is critical and urges MyCar’s makers to publish their safety test results.
Europe is only a starting point for the MyCar, Chung says. Future plans include selling the EV in Asia, including in Greater China. She intends to lobby the Hong Kong government to change transport regulations, paving the way for the MyCar’s entry into its home market.
Christian Masset, chairman of anti-pollution group Clear the Air, says EVs such as the MyCar should be introduced on to Hong Kong streets.
“It would improve roadside air quality at no cost,” says Masset.