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Chinese electric car industry is revving for prime time, but stuck in neutral

Published June 3, 2011

In 2018 China Car Times was acquired by Autowise. This article originally appeared on ChinaCarTimes.com.

Jiading’s electric car testing center

By July 2010 China had over 95,000 gas stations across the country, 50% of them belonged to two companies; Petro China and Sinopec which according to Chinese reports has lead to the petroleum industry having a monopoly over fuel choices in China.

On June 1st 2010 the Ministries of Finance, Science and Industry and Communications along with all powerful National Development and Reform Council (NDRC) came together to announce a series of subsidies for electric car buyers to push the local EV industry in the right direction, so where are the 100,000 electric charging stations?

Now that the subsidies from the NDRC and its coalition of the willing ministries have been available for a year, what progress has been made in the Chinese car industries? Many international car companies believe that China will be one of the first countries to massively promote electric car use due to the Chinese governments ability to push forward on any plan it so wishes to do so. Beijing and Taiyuan City (located to the south of Beijing) were among the first cities in China to create specialist charging stations. Beijings charging station is located west of the third ring road under the Space Aeronatics Bridge, construction of the facility was finished in December 2010 but by May 25th 2011 the station has still not been used by anybody and its only visitor is the guard tasked with overseeing the facility.

The situation in Taiyuan is not much better, as Taiyuan is surrounded by hundreds of coal producing mines there has been little interest in jumping over to electric cars, gasoline still rules the roost in Taiyuan. Taiyuans electric car charging facility was finished in May 2010 but has become a car park for traditional gasoline cars.

Over in Shanghai the local government is planning to offer subsidies of upto 2000rmb per kilowatt of electricty used in hybrid and pure electric cars, plugin hybrids will be able to receive subsidies of upto 20,000rmb and pure electric cars upto 40,000rmb

In October 2010 Shanghais vice mayor Mr. Ai Bao Jun announced that Shanghai government will support those that wish to buy EVs with subsidies and pushed Shanghais plans to become a major center for EV  technology. Jiading district in Shanghai was to become an international hub for EV testing and potential buyers could visit the center to test drive EVs before laying down their monies. In March this year the government announced that EVs could officially take to the roads in Shanghai, so in three precious months has the situation changed at all?

However, Jiadings newly minted EV testing center has run into some problems according to Chinese media reports and the center is no longer allowing media representatives to visit until the problems have been fixed.

By the end of 2010 Shanghai had created 6 EV charging centers around the city which have over 100 spaces for cars to charge, during the World Expo over a 1000 EV cars were charged over these 6 centers. Jiading District seems to be the major hub of future plans with the local government aiming to set up 5000 EV charging stations in the next 3 years and by 2015 this is to be increased to 30,000.

Until now Shanghai has only given license plates to ten electric cars, these cars being Chery, Zotye, Lifan and BYD models, two of these cars were bought by companies but the remaining 8 were bought by personal buyers. One buyer of a Lifan EV was not entirely happy with her purchase, Ms. Zhang bought a Lifan EV in April this year but realized that she had no way to charge it up up at home, the Lifan she bought could only be charged by a DC current, but her home was running on AC and the Jiading charging stations also run on AC.

Ms. Zhang said before I bought the car Lifan promised that I would be able to charge it up at home using an AC charger, but this equipment still hasnt been installed. The car needs 20 amps AC power to reach a full charge, but at home we only 12 amps AC. Ms Zhang can only charge her car up at the Lifan charging station in Jiading.

Despite such problems over 700 people come to Jiadings EV testing center every weekend to test drive electric cars, one of the favorite cars on test at the center is Roewes 350 electric car. According to reports the 350 has performed exceptionally well along with the BYD F3DM, but the Zotye EV SUV has become an unreliable nightmare with the technicians getting personal with the car on a weekly basis.

One major factor in buying an electric car has been cost, however Cherys Riich M1 EV has become one of the cheapest EVs on the road, especially when you consider 50,000RMB which makes the price drop from 150,000rmb to just 100,000rmb. The most expensive part in the Riich M1 is reportedly the battery set which costs upto 30,000rmb and is good for 1000 chargers and is guaranteed for 5 years. One Riich M1 EV owner talked with Chinese press where he told reporters that he lives in Jiading, but works in Xu Jia Hui district, he drives roughly 70km per day which would eat up the batteries 1000 charge capability in just three years.

During the World Expo in Shanghai last year, several pure electric buses took to the roads in Shanghai to promote the city as a green city. These buses were not cheap and cost around 2 million RMB each, enough to buy three diesel equivalents and could only drive for 100km per day before they needed to be re-charged.

The EV news from Hangzhou is slightly better with 25 pure EVs being sold to private buyers, subsidies of upto 123,000RMB (these being 60,000rmb from the local government and 60,000rmb from the national government) are likely to be the big motivator behind the purchases. By 2012 Hangzhou is aiming to have 20,000 new energy vehicles on its roads, but with sales of just 25 new energy vehicles to date it looks like Hangzhou is going to have to have a serious EV push if it is to reach its goals any time soon.

Hangzhous first EV buyer, MR. Li Zi Qiang spent 108,000RMB on buying a Zotye pure EV SUV, the cars real price should have been 220,000RMB but thanks to the subsidies Mr. Li got it at roughly half price. Mr Li will have no trouble charging his SUV in Hangzhou, especially as there are four centers within the relatively small city where he juice on electricity.

Shenzhen is home to BYD who are arguably becoming one of the worlds leading EV developers, according to BYD monthly orders for the BYD E6 are around 50 cars on average, but according to reports buyers are not just governmental departments but also suppliers who are interested in the E6 and its inner workings. BYD also gave dozens of E6?s over to taxi companies to carry out long distance testing, one E6 driving cabbie told Chinese media: There is enough power in the car and it saves a lot in fuel but the major problems are that it takes 30 minutes to reach a full charge and can only go 200km, which leads me to refusing passengers if they want to go to a far away place and I dont have enough power to get there

Since the BYD F3DM hit the market three years ago, BYD has sold 365 units and the E6 has reportedly just gone through the triple digits sales wise, although a definite number is unavailable. Low sales cannot be contributed to a low number of charging stations, as Shenzhen boasts over 2000 charging points throughout the city, Shenzhen city government are aiming to get 24,000 new energy cars on the roads by 2012 and by 2015 this number should increase to 100,000 and take 6% of the car market, but it seems that Shenzen buyers are not rushing to take up electric cars just yet.

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