Tesla Roadster Driver Explains EV Life in Hong Kong

By · December 16, 2013

Tesla Roadster charging up at home, in Hong Kong

Tesla Roadster charging up at home, in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong isn’t a big place. Its total area, including Hong Kong Island and the portion on the Mainland, is only 426 square miles. More than half the population of seven million people lives in private housing—though much of it consists of high-rise flats rather than single-family abodes. So it seems like an ideal place to own a plug-in electric vehicle.

But the private home ownership is one of the biggest barriers to expansion of plug-in electric vehicle ownership in Hong Kong, Tesla Roadster owner Mark Webb-Johnson told PluginCars.com. The property developers won’t let owners install charging stations in the parking space that belongs to the flat because it would require using wiring and space that is owned by the building rather than the resident, he said.

For Webb-Johnson, that isn’t an issue, however. He has an ideal setup for owning a plug-in electric vehicle. And, he admits, overall Hong Kong is doing a pretty good job of promoting expanded use of plug-in electric vehicles.

Compelling Reasons To Go Electric in Hong Kong

Webb-Johnson, who runs a computer security company, bought a Tesla Roadster about two and a half years ago. The process was easy after Tesla opened an office in Hong Kong, he said. After several test drives, he chose a color and his Roadster was delivered in about two-and-a-half months.

It replaced his Toyota Prius. He bought the Roadster for the technology, but now he appreciates the EV’s contribution towards a more sustainable transportation system as well. It is also cheaper to own than the Prius. Hong Kong’s initial registration tax for a gasoline-powered vehicle is up to 100 percent; a battery-electric vehicle pays no initial registration fee. Also, the yearly license fee is about one-tenth that of a gasoline-powered vehicle, so driving the Tesla costs about a quarter of the cost of driving his Prius, said Webb-Johnson.

He drives his Tesla to work every day, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) round trip. Webb-Johnson, 49, lives in the New Territories, a part of Hong Kong that adjoins China on the mainland. There are quite a few Roadsters in Saikung, where he lives, said Webb-Johnson.

Electric Roadsters gathered for a Tesla meetup in Hong Kong

Electric Roadsters gathered for a Tesla meetup in Hong Kong.

Though Hong Kong is one of the world’s most densely-populated cities, the New Territories are more like a U.S. suburb. Webb-Johnson lives in a house with a garage. He charges his EV there. There are no charging posts at his workplace but “if I asked for it (the property developers) would probably put it in,” he said. “They like to appear green.”

Public Charging On the Rise

There is actually a lot of public charging in Hong Kong, about 1,000 stations. That’s pretty good considering there are currently only about 500 EVs in Hong Kong. That is doubling annually, so expect 1,000 next year and 2,000 the year after, said Webb-Johnson.

Electricity in Hong Kong is all 220 volts, so most of the stations are Level 2. There are about a dozen CHAdeMO fast chargers. Most of the chargers are free to use. They are mostly located in shopping centers and government car parks.

Tesla Roadster charging up at home, in Hong Kong

Cyberport is a modern office complex in Hong Kong. A charging setup like this, with 220-volt 13-amp chargers, is pretty common in Hong Kong, according to Mark Webb-Johnson, the owner of a Tesla Roadster.

On the one hand, said Webb-Johnson, “The buildings are amazing. Any government building in Hong Kong, the car park has 20 EV charging stations. It is a pretty good start and makes a great psychological benefit.” On the other hand, Hong Kong could use more DC fast chargers because people don’t stay in shopping centers long enough to get a substantial additional charge, he said.

More important than adding DC fast chargers, however, is getting more Level 2 workplace charging at non-government buildings, figures Webb-Johnson. That will likely require government incentives because the majority of buildings in Hong Kong are owned by small companies or cooperatives and they don’t see any benefit to installing charging.

As for residential charging, the government has incentivized property developers to install charging in new residential buildings. Property in Hong Kong is very expensive and how much money a developer makes on a residential building depends on how many floors (and therefore units) he can pack into a space. The government has included EV charging on the list of conditions that will allow a property developer to add more floors, said Webb-Johnson.

However, “they have ignored existing buildings,” he says. Webb-Johnson suggested that the legislature should pass a law that allows anyone who wants to install a charging station at their home or office parking space, at their own expense, to do so.

More EV Selection Needed

That may be a while in coming. There is a limited selection of electric vehicles in Hong Kong—mainly Teslas and Nissan LEAFs, it seems—and they are expensive. Owning any kind of vehicle in Hong Kong is a luxury, admitted Webb-Johnson.

The government is mainly encouraging electrification of taxi and bus fleets right now, he said. But a fully electric Hong Kong taxi isn’t really viable without widespread fast charging availability. A taxi driver drives about 400 km (249 miles) in a 12-hour nearly non-stop shift, then passes the taxi off to another driver, who drives for 12 hours, leaving little time to recharge. The Hong Kong government is also discouraging private car ownership, so it has a bit of a conflict, he said.

Still, with the number of EVs in Hong Kong doubling annually, the government may face increasing pressure to address charging infrastructure and further support of electric cars. The arrival of the Tesla Model S in Hong Kong next year will be a big boost to the EV numbers, said Webb-Johnson. Tesla said it has orders for 300 in Hong Kong. Webb-Johnson is on that list. He has ordered a Model S to replace his wife’s Nissan minivan.

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