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Taiwan's fuel saver inventor eyes Chinese market

2010/03/12 10:16:39

It has taken Taiwanese inventor Suilliven Wang 10 years andcosted him nearly NT$100 million (US$3.1 million) to develop hisdevice, which helps vehicles save fuel. To Wang, it is about time hereaps the fruits of his hardwork.

After rejecting China as a manufacturing base for fear of piracy,Wang is now seriously considering cooperating with Chinese firms,including state-owned enterprises, as China -- with its boomingvehicle purchases -- is turning out to be a key market for him.

His story epitomizes the persistence of Taiwan's innovativeminds, who are increasingly encouraged by the government to help turnTaiwan into an innovation-driven economy. The path they travel,however, are full of challenges.

Wang, who used to be a refrigerator design engineer in the early1980s, started his initial research on the fuel saver in 1994. Withguidance from a local scientific expert, Wang devoted himself todeveloping the fuel saver, which uses nano technology, in 1997.

The fuel-saver, a 10-centimeter metal tube attached with a pieceof nano-filled rubber inside, can help reduce carbon emissions of adiesel passenger car by 40 percent.

Wrapped around a vehicle's fuel pipe, the device creates far-infrared rays, which can help minify fuel's molecules, enhancecomplete combustion, and thus cut down fuel consumption and reducecarbon emissions.

Within nine years, Wang got a patent for the device in Taiwan andChina, and passed a fuel-saving test on cars in China as well as asmoke-reducing test in Singapore.

"When the device was first tested in China, the inspection centertested it for three times, " Wang recalled, "because it was difficultfor them to believe that the device was able to save 20 percent offuel (at that time), especially because back then the best fuel savercould only save about 6 percent of fuel." Wang added.

The center then decided to set up a review panel, asking Wangwhat made the little device work.

"It speeds up the collision (of the fuel molecules) , " Wangreplied precisely. He explained that the nano far-infrared materialin the fuel saver can boost fuel segmentation, decrease viscosity offuel and make combustion easier.

The formula of Wang's nano material suddenly became a hit.

Wang soon received an offer by a Chinese organization to invest30 million Chinese yuan (US$4.4 million), but he rejected the offer.

"Because they asked me to provide the formula, " said Wang aboutwhy he refused the offer. "I just want to keep the best technology inTaiwan."

Wang admitted that he put some bugs in the device, therefore lessthan half of the 26 kinds of formula can be found through lab tests.

"I was just taking a necessary self-protection measure, " headded.

He said last week that he will forsake making his product in theChinese market, but hopes to sell more of the product there.

"I definitely will not go to China. My product might be copied byothers if I set up a plant in China, " Wang said, explaining that hewas determined to establish his production base in Taiwan.

Four months ago, an investment company in the U.S. came to Wang,offering an investment of US$1.2 billion for setting up a jointcompany with Wang's Toneching Enterprise Co., and establishing alarge manufacturing base in Taiwan.

Wang finally gave the nod. The investment is currently underreview by the Investment Commission of the Ministry of EconomicAffairs.

Wang's company produces 50,000 fuel savers per month, with 80percent exported to China, and 20 percent sold in Taiwan and someSouth East Asia countries, such as Malaysia and Indonesia.

After the new company is set up in the first half of this year,the production output is expected to increase by 30 times to 1.5million units per month in the first three years, with China as thetop priority market, Wang said.

"New vehicle sales in China is estimated at about 1.2 millionunits per month, we hope to grab the market as soon as we can, " hesaid.

At present, the fuel saver sells for 1,200 Chinese yuan (US$176)a piece. When it enters mass production, the price is likely to bemuch lower -- dropping by as much as 80 percent, Wang said.

For a passenger car driving an average of 5,000 kilometers amonth, the cost recovery time for installing one fuel saver on a caris about two and a half months, Wang claimed.

Compared to his ambitions towards China's market, however, Wangseems more conservative about expanding in the local market.

"It takes me too much time to persuade people here, " said Wang,adding that local auto maintenance shops lack trusts as most fuelsavers on the market do not work as effectively as the makers claim.

Furthermore, most people think a fuel-saving device only worksfor one year, and they will not see it as a must-buy product if itonly saves around 5 percent or 8 percent of fuel, Wang said.

In December 2007, Wang went to the Taiwan Taxi Company, thecountry's largest taxi company with 6,000 taxis in servicenationwide, to ask the company to help test the fuel saver'sfunctionalities.

Lin Tsun-tien, chairman of Taiwan Taxi also expressed his doubtsas there were dozens of similar products on the market. But he stilldecided to give Wang a chance.

Lin assigned three taxi drivers to help test the device, whichproved to be able to save 31 to 53 percent of fuel at a 100-kilometer driving distance.

An engineer from the ARTC -- Automotive Research and TestingCenter established by the Ministry of Economic Affairs -- said mostfuel savers did not perform well at tests, but he also pointed thatthere is a grey area among promoting such products.

"Everyone drives in different way, so the results of using fuelsavers may also be different, " said the engineer, "You can not sayfor sure that the product is effective or not," he added.

Although Wang doesn't want to make his product in China, he iskeenly aware China will still be one of his most important marketsfor sales of the product.

With an injection of foreign funds expected in the near future,Wang eyes not only the booming Chinese market, but also the growingmarket in India.

"Only Chinese and Indian governments are likely to order everynew vehicle on the market to be installed with such fuel saver," saidWang, who was optimistic about his new company's outlook.

In fact, after passing the inspection in China with eye-openingresults, Wang has already been offered some business opportunities inChina.

"The inspection report is just like a diploma. I had to obtain itbefore doing business with state enterprises in China, " Wang said.

But he said he will hold tight to his secret formula -- one thatis allowing him to finally taste the fruits of his labor.

CNA photo No.1-2.

By Fanny Liu, CNA staff writer.