Electric taxis take to the streets of Shenzhen

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An electric taxi in Shenzhen, Guangdong province. By the end of the year, Shenzhen's fleet of electric taxis will rise to 100.

An electric taxi in Shenzhen, Guangdong province. By the end of the year, Shenzhen's fleet of electric taxis will rise to 100. [China Daily]

Earlier this month when the first batch of electric taxis appeared in Shenzhen, south China's Guangdong province, locals dismissed the red-and-white cars as "fire engines" and didn't even think of taking one.

Three weeks later, however, the newcomers have become more well known and are attracting growing interest.

"A passenger asked for my phone number and wants me to pick him up next time," said Luo Baodong, one of the 30 drivers in Shenzhen of the BYD e6, an all-electric crossover car made by Chinese automaker BYD Co Ltd.

By the end of the year, Shenzhen's fleet of electric taxis will rise to 100, according to Du Jun, general manager of Shenzhen Pengcheng Electric Taxi Co Ltd, a joint venture responsible for electric taxi operations which was formed last year by BYD and local bus and taxi operator Shenzhen Bus Group Co Ltd.

This is part of Shenzhen's plan to create a green city by introducing electric vehicles. According to the local government, the city will have 24,000 electric vehicles and 12,750 charging stations by 2012.

More importantly, for BYD, the debut of its e6 taxis may well give its electric vehicle sales a boost.

"It's a good idea to make the electric taxi scheme a trial for the coming e6 model, as this can help more people experience the e6 before they decide to buy one," said Xu Feng, a spokeswoman for BYD's electric taxi project.

The e6 model will go on sale in China and the United States later this year, according to the company.

The city government of Los Angeles in California has reached an agreement with BYD to purchase its electric cars and test its electric buses.

The Shenzhen-based company, backed by US billionaire Warren Buffet, is the country's eighth-largest automaker. Its CEO Wang Chuanfu earlier said that, with its electric cars, he aimed to turn BYD into China's biggest auto producer by 2015.

The electric taxis are more expensive than ordinary taxis that run on gasoline. A BYD e6 taxi is sold at 300,000 yuan ($43,942), three times the price of an ordinary one.

The central government is subsidizing the purchase of each taxi to the tune of 60,000 yuan. The Shenzhen government is also drawing up subsidy plans for electric taxis to help develop the new industry.

"The cost of our business will be lower with the government subsidy and if more companies enter the market to build the facilities," said Du.

The electric taxi operator will invest more than 30 million yuan by the end of this year to boost output and build charging stations.

"It will be a real benefit in the long run though we have to invest a lot at this stage," he said.

According to Du, it costs less than 30 yuan for an e6 taxi to run 100 kilometers, while it costs about 60 yuan for an ordinary one to travel the same distance.

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