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Autos Compete to Be Beijing's Taxi

The long-drawn out deliberations on which models of cars will be chosen for the standard Beijing taxicab seem to have made some progress, with the city publicizing a dozen colorful designs over the weekend.

The candidates for the designs are divided into two groups based on the main colors -- one is yellow, the other is silver.

People can vote on the Beijing Communications Commission's website at www.bjjtw.gov.cn for their favorite design.

Most of the cabs now in service in Beijing are Xiali, Citroen Fukang, Jetta or other models that are red in colour.

Insiders say the colour changes for the taxis are just the tip of the ice berg, indicating that a multi-million-yuan upgrade of taxicabs is near at hand.

Back in 2002, the city communications authorities set about improving the standards of models used for taxis.

Sonata, a model manufactured by the Beijing Hyundai Automobile Co, was said to be the first choice of the municipal government at that time.

The news aroused heated debate. After all, many automakers from home and abroad are drooling over the city's taxi market, which boasts 64,000 cabs with a renewal rate of 20-30 percent annually.

The communications commission explained later that it was working to draw up a new standard for the models used for taxis, and any car model from any automobile maker has the opportunity to enter the taxi market if it meets government standards.

However, two years later, the standard has still not been made public.

The much-whispered about possible standard is that the length of the car should not be less than 4.5 meters. It should be powered by nothing less than a 1.6 liter engine.

If the standard is true, the models of Xiali and Citroen Fukang, which dominate the taxi market at present, would be gradually ruled out.

Insiders say it is likely that several major automakers will share the pie of the upgrade, and the most competitive models could include the Santana, Sonata, Audi, Hongqi, Zhonghua and Dongfang Zhizi.

The Beijing Star Daily reported on Friday that sales people for the above auto companies are going about canvassing the taxi companies because a huge batch of 15,000 to 20,000 Xiali cabs will be worn out by the end of this year.

Whatever new models will be chosen, one thing is certain for consumers: higher fares.

Experts say the price of any one of the new models will be sold at no less than 120,000 yuan (US$14,500), and their fares will probably be at least 1.6 yuan to 2 yuan (19 to 24 US cents) per kilometer.

The fare rate now for the most popular Xiali, which takes up more than half of the city's taxi market, is only 1.2 yuan (15 US cents) per kilometre.

The communications commission justified the taxicab upgrade as part of the city's efforts to improve services for tourists and improve the city's image as Beijing prepares for the Olympic Games in 2008.

(China Daily August 30, 2004)

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