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Formula E could spark Hong Kong interest in electric vehicles

Next weekend’s Hong Kong Formula E event could highlight the speed, reliability and increasing range of the latest electric cars. Hong Kong’s plug-in scene is still tiny, with only 6,167 electric vehicles at the end of August – a fraction of the city’s 737,312 licensed cars in June. However, electric cars are catching on, thanks to tax breaks, a greater choice of attractive cars and the torque of their battery power. The government allows 56 electric-car brands on the city’s roads, but the following five are arguably the best.

The Tesla Model S is reported to be the city’s best-selling electric vehicle with “over 2,000” sales in a range of engine variants. Hong Kong owners love its supercar zip, handling and executive luxury, but critics wonder if its dominance can last as more marques enter the upmarket niche. Nevertheless, the car is packed with safety electronics, four-wheel-drive, its highly popular 17-inch capacitive touchscreen and digital instrument cluster with Wi-fi, internet connectivity and hands-free talking with Bluetooth.

The Tesla Model S makes its owner look hi-tech and hands-on, and the marque’s Hong Kong outlet is this week pushing the 85kWh battery version (HK$825,800), which promises an impressive 491km range and a 3.1-second sprint to 100km/h. The marque recently opened a “flagship” service centre in Tsuen Wan, but a Hong Kong Island base might have been easier for corporate clients.

A new BMW i3 (HK$430,000) is being deployed as a Formula E medical car and will be launched at the Central Waterfront track next Sunday. The four-metre four-seater has a carbon-fibre reinforced plastic monocoque passenger cell, weighs only 1,320kg and has a 94Ah (ampere hours) high-voltage battery that now has an ideal range of 200km – 40km more than its 60Ah predecessor, which clocked this year’s Hong Kong Marathon.

However, this “200km” range is probably more achievable at a gentle 30km/h and could shrink to 160km/h or 170km on commutes at 80km/h. Even so, the 170hp i3 delivers 250Nm in torque, can sprint from a stop to 100km/h in 7.3 seconds and tops at 150km/h to become “both the sportiest and most efficient electric vehicle in its segment”, BMW says.

The i3 looks boxy, but its big doors eliminate B-pillars and its comfortable, attractive interior is trimmed with natural, renewable and recycled raw materials. Its electronic highlights include the BMW i Remote App that monitors the car’s battery charge and settings from a smartphone, and BMW ConnectedDrive. The engine fast-charges in “under 40 minutes” but can be charged to 80 per cent capacity in about 10 hours at home, BMW says.

The Nissan e-NV200 van has a lithium battery range of 165km, five seats and enough space for two pallets in the back. The 4.56-metre, 1,675kg van has an airy cabin, with halogen headlights and a punchy powertrain with 254Nm of torque. The driver has “class-leading” legroom, hands-free calling and Bluetooth and iPhone connectivity. Its cargo capacity is said to be 3,600 litres on a 1.83-metre, straight-walled floor. The van’s battery can be recharged in four to 10 hours with 220V equipment, but a quick charger can replenish it to 80 per cent capacity in about half an hour, Nissan says.

The Volkswagen e-Golf (HK$369,980) could be one of the industry’s highlights of next weekend’s event. Launched in Hong Kong in March last year, the four-door, five-seater hatchback will compete in Saturday’s e-Touring Car Challenge. Volkswagen has reduced the e-Golf’s aerodynamics to 0.281Cd and fitted it with brighter and more energy-efficient LED lights.

Inside, there is a 6.5-inch TFT colour touchscreen with a proximity sensor, Bluetooth connectivity, keyless locking, a powerful stereo and a USB slot. The engine can also produce 270Nm of torque and reach 100km/h in 10.4 seconds. Its 24.2kWh/323Volt lithium-ion battery also has a range of up to 190km. The car can quick-charge to 80 per cent capacity in about half an hour or replenish on a home socket in eight to 13 hours. Volkswagen Hong Kong offers e-Golf owners a five-year or 100,000km factory warranty.

The 4.08-metre Renault Zoe is a bestseller in Europe and has an 88hp motor that produces a rewarding 220Nm of torque. Simple to drive, comfortable and easy to steer in Wan Chai traffic, the Zoe has a five-star European crash test safety rating and could prove an enjoyable second or third car. Its hill-start assist can be invaluable in the Mid-Levels and its clocks keep the driver informed of the battery’s range and replenishment.

The Zoe is just a hint of Renault’s larger presence in the Hong Kong electric-vehicle sector, however. The French marque won government-fleet orders of 119 98hp Fluence saloons (HK$349,800) in 2013; 20 Zoe last year; and 15 electric Kangoo vans (HK$389,000) this summer. The Renault e.dams team are also World ePrix champions, and the Zoe is being offered for a month-long celebratory discount, until October 23, at HK$298,000. It might be the best excuse yet to start driving on electric.