Saturday January 12, 2013
EVs yet to make mark
MADE IN CHINA
By CHOW HOW BAN
So far China has sold only about 13,000 electric and hybrid vehicles and it will take some time for the public to accept it and dispel thoughts that these vehicles are costlier and the distance covered is shorter.
CHINA has sold only about 13,000 electric and hybrid vehicles since the government started promoting green transportation vigorously in 2009.
This number is rather small considering that a subsidy programme for the purchase of electric vehicles (EV) and plug-in hybrid passenger vehicles (PHEV) is already well in place and many choices of car makes and models are available in the market.
Many of these green vehicles were sold to public transport operators, service providers in the public sector and internally to the car manufacturers’ employees instead of individual car buyers.
For instance, Beijing Automotive Industry Corporation (BAIC) Group, the fifth largest vehicle producer in China, has sold about 1,000 electric and hybrid cars mainly to customers in Beijing and some in Fujian and Guangdong provinces.
“Most of our electric car buyers are companies under the BAIC Group and our business partners. About 500 were sold internally to our employees and 300 electric taxis are being used in the suburbs of Beijing,” said BAIC Electric Vehicle Co Ltd executive director Lin Yi in a recent interview.
He said EV was only introduced in China in the past two to three years and it would take some time for the Chinese public to accept it and dispel thoughts that EV is costlier and the distance covered is shorter.
“In recent years, due to scarcity of oil supply, many car manufacturers around the world have started to emphasise on the research and development of EV again. We believe that with the construction of more battery charging stations, the sales will gradually increase,” he said.
In 2010, the government unveiled the much-awaited subsidy scheme hoping to put at least 500,000 electric cars on the roads by 2015.
Prompted by slow sales, the government came out with a roadmap last July outlining more specific goals.
Apart from the 500,000 mark by 2015, it further set an ambitious target of five million units and reducing the average fuel consumption of passenger cars to five litres for every 100km by 2020.
Tsinghua University’s EV research division head Prof Chen Quanshi said China was moving in the right direction in promoting green transportation but was short of implementation details such as market research and co-ordination within government departments.
“There are many EV and PHEV brands in the Chinese market but whether the consumers like the design is another question. The car makers have not figured out the whole EV business model – who are their target consumers, what kind of car suits China and how the car is used.
“No matter how much subsidy you get, if the car doesn’t serve your purpose you will not buy it,” he said.
Under the subsidy scheme, car makers in 25 cities will get up to 50,000 yuan (RM24,000) subsidy for PHEV and 60,000 yuan (RM28,800) for EV. They will then lower the car prices.
Some local governments also provide additional subsidy; for instance, 20,000 yuan (RM9,600) from the Shenzhen city government and up to 60,000 yuan (RM28,800) from the Beijing municipal government plus exemption from the car lottery system.
Citing the BYD e6 passenger car, one of the earliest locally-made EV models available, Chen said it did not appeal to consumers as its battery weighed 800kg and it had a price tag of 369,800 yuan (RM177,504), which is almost the price of a Mercedes-Benz.
“During my study visit to the United States, I observed the trend there. Apart from the usual pick-ups and big sedans, some rich American families also use a smaller electric car as a second car for work and to transport their children to school. They can charge their car at parking bays and at home. This kind of EV will be successful,” he said.
Some 2,000 locally-made electric taxis are plying the roads of Beijing, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Hefei, Haikou, Baoji and Jinan cities. The BYD e6 taxi, used in Shenzhen and Hangzhou, can go at a top speed of 160kph and covers a maximum distance of 300km when fully charged, while the BAIC E150EV and C70GB taxis plying the outskirts of Beijing can travel 90km and 120km, respectively.
Chang Sisi, a director at the administrative office of Fangshan Taxi Co Ltd which operates electric cabs in Beijing’s Fangshan district, said the company collected data on the car performance daily.
“We received information on the car and battery from the manufacturer. But EV is quite a new technology, we need to compile our own data on the car, battery and power charging kiosk to see how they really perform. So far, we have not encountered any problem with the cars delivered to us.”
While the focus is on PHEV and EV, automakers like the BAIC Group are already developing new extended-range electric cars which can travel further than a PHEV.
“This car can travel about 60km using a battery. After the battery has been used for a certain level, a fuel engine will power an electric generator for another 300km of extended range driving,” explained Lin, adding that the car will probably hit the road for trial runs this year.
Sceptics may doubt whether China will meet its five million-unit target but the Chinese believe setting a high benchmark is half the work done.
Chow How Ban can be reached at email@example.com