Commitment, But No Clear Path to China’s EV Future

By · December 17, 2012

Shanghai traffic

Shanghai traffic

I recently returned from a trip to China. Like all dedicated China-watchers, I wanted to discern the direction of China’s plan to grow the electric vehicle sector here by reading the official commentary tea leaves. China is about to change leaders, after all. Will the new administration be committed to growing the number of electric vehicles in China?

What the leaves told me is that China is still committed to growing the EV sector, but there is still no agreement at the top as to the best way to do that. Crucial infrastructure issues remain unresolved. So, anyone who expects China to become the EV capital of the world anytime soon should think again.

Government officials at the NextGen Auto International Summit held in Shanghai on Dec 11 to 13 gave mixed messages. A mid-level official from the Ministry of Science and Technology reiterated the old line that China’s domestic automakers could use electric vehicles to modernize the industry here and grab market share from foreign brands.

Despite decades of development and partnership with foreign automakers, China’s domestic brands still hold only 30 percent of the market. But his advice was unrealistic, to put it mildly. Chinese automakers should concentrate on quality rather than quantity, invest more in R&D, and not just “rush for the gold,” he said. Yeah right.

He did recognize that developing EVs had turned out to be harder than anticipated, and that there was no shortcut to transitioning to electrified models. He concluded with the current government line that plug-in hybrid electric vehicles would be a good starting point for growing the EV sector.

Better Living Through (Battery) Chemistry

A vice president from the Development Research Center of the State Council (China’s cabinet) said development of the EV sector was about reducing the income gap and improving Chinese people’s lives. Not only would growing the EV sector reduce dependence on foreign oil, it would improve people’s quality of life, he said. And growing the EV sector was a good way to help reach the government’s goal of doubling the GDP by 2020, and doubling people’s salaries in the process, he added. I’m not sure how that would work given the small size of the EV sector—but the government is nonetheless touting it as an official goal.

There was some realistic discussion of the state of China’s EV development. There’s wide agreement that government subsidies were still needed to grow the sector, though one participant pointed out those couldn’t go on forever. “The market must decide,” he said. He was connected with a quasi-governmental think tank. China’s quality standards are not up to global standards, said several speakers (some from industry or academia rather than government).

No Standards

And China needs to come out with standards for batteries and charging station plugs, some speakers pointed out. This is where China faces real challenges. Despite years of talk, China has yet to produce a national plug standard. That is because fundamental items, some of them involving safety, are yet to be determined, sources here tell me.

Just when those issues will be resolved is uncertain, however, because numerous parties, including the State Grid, one of China’s main electric utilities, and SinoPec, a large state-owned oil company which also owns gas stations, can’t agree on what the standard should be.

The good news is that China’s government is still committed to the EV sector. The bad news is that China’s government is not monolithic, and there are many players in the decisions involving EVs and related infrastructure. That will slow development down more than all the technical issues.

Comments

· Modern Marvel Fan (not verified) · 2 years ago

Most Chinese got no place to charge their EVs b/c they live around "dense" Apartment buildings.

· Paul Scott (not verified) · 2 years ago

I agree on the quality problem. China graduates over 30,000 engineers every year from their universities, so it won't be long before they get that part down. Look to Korea for a good example.

The economics you had trouble with will, to an extent, be paid from savings in the purchase of foreign oil. Like the U.S., China imports a lot of oil, and like us, once they transition to electricity, that money stays local.

Here in CA, a CalETC study found that for every dollar not spent on oil 16 times more jobs were created with the money. http://www.caletc.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/caletcpressrelease10-9-...

Here in the U.S., we have been spending about $400 billion for foreign oil. That's about 45% of our trade deficit. Once a country transitions a significant percentage of their fleet to renewable energy, their balance of trade improves dramatically. That money can then be used for more productive purposes.

· Paul Scott (not verified) · 2 years ago

I agree on the quality problem. China graduates over 30,000 engineers every year from their universities, so it won't be long before they get that part down. Look to Korea for a good example.

The economics you had trouble with will, to an extent, be paid from savings in the purchase of foreign oil. Like the U.S., China imports a lot of oil, and like us, once they transition to electricity, that money stays local.

Here in CA, a CalETC study found that for every dollar not spent on oil 16 times more jobs were created with the money. http://www.caletc.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/caletcpressrelease10-9-...

Here in the U.S., we have been spending about $400 billion for foreign oil. That's about 45% of our trade deficit. Once a country transitions a significant percentage of their fleet to renewable energy, their balance of trade improves dramatically. That money can then be used for more productive purposes.

· David Martin (not verified) · 2 years ago

For apartment dwelling Chinese, fuel cell vehicles are a much better fit.

The reality is that most Chinese energy comes from coal, and that is not going to change anytime soon.

A lot of analysis has gone into showing that the dirty Chinese grid means that electrification would not reduce CO2 emissions.

Producing hydrogen from coal lends itself to techniques such as underground gassification, and subsequent storage underground of CO2 greatly reducing emissions.

The Chinese have not gone for BEVs because they are not very practical for them.

Fuel cell cars are.

· · 2 years ago

"Government officials at the NextGen Auto International Summit held in Shanghai on Dec 11 to 13 gave mixed messages... He concluded with the current government line that plug-in hybrid electric vehicles would be a good starting point for growing the EV sector"

There seems to be a lot of EV enthusiasts who believe PHEVs are a threat to the success of EVs. EV enthusiasts seem to think that PHEVs will keep us addicted to oil which will result in a delay of a pure EV future. I don't see it that way.

I'll use the Chevy Volt as an example of why I think PHEVs will accelerate us toward an EV future. According to data collected by GM the average Volt is driven in EV mode 67% of miles driven. Any increase, however small, in the storage capacity of the Volt battery will increase the EV miles above 67%. Eventually, EV mode will approach 100%. At this point it makes no sense to keep the ICE as part of the vehicle. I believe this will happen faster than most people think it will, perhaps less than five years.

There is another reason some EV enthusiasts believe PHEVs are a road block to pure EVs. Some people believe auto manufacturers cling to ICE technology because vehicles that need more repairs and maintenance result in more profits for manufacturers. Automobiles that require more repairs and maintenance might result in profits for dealerships but not for manufacturers who have to pay the cost of warranty coverage. Warranty coverage is a huge expense in the automotive industry and an enormous amount of effort goes into making products as reliable as possible to keep warranty costs down. (By the way, this is true for all manufactured products) I know this because I worked in the automotive industry as a quality engineer but anyone with common sense ought to understand this.

· · 2 years ago

Bicycles. The Chinese are only a generation or two removed from a time when everyone pedaled instead of drove. Perhaps they've built themselves into an urban sprawl conundrum in recent decades, but they need to find a way to return to the humble bicycle. They also need to get away from burning so much coal, as this currently makes their EVs dirtier than ICE cars. As with everywhere else, EVs are only as clean as the electricity that powers them.

Hydrogen isn't going to miraculously save the Chinese. But, with 30,000 engineers graduating there every year, they might actually figure out how to make fuel cells work before anyone else does . . . in a few decades, perhaps. But first, they need to clean up their oxygen and nitrogen . . . which, by default, is everyone else's oxygen and nitrogen.

While they're figuring how to get off coal and embrace the bicycle again, they need to start building EVs at a price point that the rest of the world can afford and then export them. Perhaps they will end up building an affordable one that even overly-fussy, luxury-obsessed American consumers will like.

· Warren (not verified) · 2 years ago

Benjamin,

Amen to bicycles! As a kid, I rode a bicycle everywhere. But I was obsessed with ICE vehicles. My dad and I built lawn tractors, rototillers, go karts, and minibikes. I read Car & Driver, Road & Track, and Hot Rod magazines cover to cover. As a young driver, I owned and modified motorcycles, and sports cars. By my early twenties I had totally lost interest in ICE vehicles, and was back to bicycles. In late 2009, with the advent of lithium cells, I started getting excited about EV's. After three years of research, I am back where I started. Cars are at the root of many of our social, health, environmental, and economic problems. Simply converting them to electric drive will not address 99% of their problems.

Until we Americans (there is no denying we lead the world's desires) figure out how to rid ourselves of cars, there will be no solving most of our problems.

· · 2 years ago

The answer is quiet simple:
Make a base EV with 75 miles range and equip it with a micro range extender than can supply 15 KW of electric power to the battery when it is depleted. Make it a standard.
Turn that standardized base into different shapes usually on the market as a range of vehicles.

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