The Hong Kong government might announce the final laboratory test results on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) samples on Feb 26, which is critical to prove whether the recent spate of vehicle breakdowns in the territory is fuel-related.
The Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) rescheduled the plan from this Thursday because it wasn't able to collect all the results from the independent German laboratory, according to insiders.
A preliminary report by EMSD in early February showed that LPG samples from Sinopec, a giant Chinese oil company that supplies LPG for around 18,000 taxis and 2,000 minibuses in Hong Kong, has not identified any breach of auto-LPG specifications.
The government department set up a special task force to investigate rising complaints from taxi and minibus drivers about frequent breakdowns after filling with LPG in Sinopec service stations in early January. They believed the fuel supplied by Sinopec was adulterated or contaminated.
However, experts and industry players suggest other possible causes of potential engine failure in these taxies and mini-buses.
Lo Kok-keung of Hong Kong Poly U's Department of Mechanical Engineering said maintenance is as crucial for LPG taxis and mini-buses as with normal gasoline-driven vehicles.
This view was echoed by Mr Tsang of Nei Kan Motors Ltd, one of the 29 registered maintenance mechanics shops for LPG vehicles in Hong Kong.
"Taxi drivers bring their taxis for a checkup only when they experience problems because they are normally using every minute to get more customers," he said.
Other factors that might cause breakdowns of LPG engines include driving habits, quality of LPG and weather, said industrial players.
A majority of the hundreds of taxis that reported breakdowns last month to the government have been in service for more than eight years, according to Ringo Lee, chairman of the Institute of the Motor Industry in Hong Kong.
In Japan, it is mandatory to replace LPG vehicles after five years of service or, in Austrialia, after running for an accumulative 300,000 to 400,000 km.
According to the anonymous insider, EMSD is also looking into harmful substances called phthalates and adipates that are found in LPG.
These substances, which are commonly found in plastic materials, can be released from the plastic hose that fills LPG into the vehicle. This may have polluted LPG and caused the engine stalling.
"The cause of the engine stalling of LPG taxis and minibuses may be more complicated than expected," said the insider.
Reliable sources also indicated that, even if LPG test results meet government standards, the investigation task force for the stalling incident might advise tightening up LPG quality to improve and enhance vehicle performance.
It might also suggests EMSD set up mechanisms to strengthen regulation of taxi/minibus maintenance and increase the number of maintenance mechanic shops for LPG vehicles from the current 29, which now serve more than 18,000 LPG taxis and 4,000 LPG mini-buses in Hong Kong.
Sinopec also took action to demonstrate its transparency and commitment in the industry.
For the first time, it invited industry leaders of taxi and minibus companies as well media to visit its oil terminal in Tsing Yi, Hong Kong in early February. It was also the first oil company in Hong Kong to make such an arrangement, according to the industry.