Hong Kong may not be Detroit, the heart of the American automobile industry, but in a city without a car manufacturing history, a local firm's ambition to develop environmentally friendly vehicles has been shifting up a gear.
Produced by Hong Kong-based EuAuto Technology, mycar is the city's first electric vehicle (EV) to be sold in global markets.
Partially funded by the government's Innovation and Technology Commission, with the driving system co-developed with the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the carbon emission-free mycar is sold in Austria, the Benelux countries, Denmark, France, Italy, Poland, and Britain. It is also used in Hong Kong, mainly by organisations such as CLP and the Airport Authority.
"From day one, EuAuto Technology was set up to produce environmentally friendly vehicles. Our mindset was to target mycar to the high-end markets in Europe and the US where environmental vehicles are more widely accepted," says Chung Sin-ling, EuAuto Technology chief executive officer and general manager. "Although it will take time to generate market demand to reach an economy of scale, EVs are no longer a fuzzy concept. They are very much part of the automobile industry."
Chung says when EuAuto began prototype work on mycar in 2003, the high-capital investment, research and technology broke new ground in Hong Kong. "At the time, the idea of designing and developing an electrical vehicle in Hong Kong was an alien concept," says Chung.
She says the willingness of entrepreneurs, shareholders and financial backers to support the project have been key to its success. "Unlike an investment in property or quick turnaround products, an investment in technology to develop a car requires a long-term view of many years," says Chung.
During the early days of development, Chung says a further challenge was bringing together a local team of engineers, electrical experts and design specialists.
"In the early days, people were sceptical about our abilities. However, these days, it is slightly easier to recruit the people we need," says Chung. "We had no local reference points, the team had to learn from scratch and keep pace with the rapid changes in green technology. We did recruit from the outside automotive industry. For instance, the styling design of mycar was originated by Italian automobile designer Giorgetto Giugiaro."
The two-seater car, which runs on batteries, is also being tested on the Danish island of Bornholm, where it is recharged with energy generated from wind power.
A merger last year between EuAuto and GreenTech Automotive, led by Terry McAuliffe, an adviser to former United States president Bill Clinton, means mycar will have a manufacturing facility in Mississippi to cover the entire American market.
According to McAuliffe, potential demand for mycar in the US is huge and the company will sell "hundreds of thousands" of mycar's within a few years of production. The manufacturing plant is expected to come into operation by early next year.
Chung says while it is unlikely a different Hong Kong company would have the inclination or resources to launch another full-scale EV, the city is in a strong position to expand the environmental automobile industry. "Hong Kong has a good reputation for meeting international compliance standards, which is an area where Hong Kong businesses could bridge the gap between the mainland green automotive industry and the international market," says Chung.
To help local industries capture emerging opportunities and go through business transformation, the Hong Kong Automotive Parts and Accessory Systems (APAS) research and development centre was established in 2006.
"The centre undertakes market-led R&D programmes as well as commercialising R&D results in collaboration with industry, universities and technology institutes," says Lixin Situ, APAS associate director.
According to the Hong Kong Productivity Council, there are over 150 local companies in the APAS industry, including companies manufacturing high value-added automotive parts.
"Our main aim is to help further R&D competencies, expand the user base and establish networks on the mainland and overseas," Situ says, adding that current projects include assisting with the development of a vision-radar-sensor that provides drivers so-called blind-spot detection.
Also in development is an image system to be installed on long vehicles that allows drivers to monitor behind the vehicle during reversing.