G.M. Wants to Jumpstart Chinese EV Market with Car-Sharing
Plug-in electric cars have not been popular with Chinese consumers despite hefty government subsidies. General Motors is hoping that having a consumer borrow an EV for a few hours will change their minds about the technology.
In October 2011, General Motors announced it had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City Investment and Development Co. to integrate its EN-V personal mobility pure electric vehicles into the Eco-City. The Tianjin Eco-City, located 40 kilometers from the center of the northeast China city of Tianjin, aims to build a sustainable community of 350,000 residents in a 30-square-kilometer area.
Though it has not been widely discussed, a car sharing program is part of GM’s plan to introduce EVs to the inhabitants of the Eco-City. The EN-V is a small pure electric two-seater vehicle that was first introduced at the Shanghai World Expo in 2011. GM showed an artist’s rendition of the EN-V 2.0, a more advanced version, at the Beijing auto show in 2012.
The automaker aims to have a small demo fleet of EN-Vs in operation in the Eco-City within a few years, according to people familiar with the project. If it can overcome some bureaucratic barriers, that is. GM envisions charging station installation in apartment parking areas and commercial buildings for workplace charging. But currently there is no method to get permission to install charging stations. That might sound like a small thing, in China, it can be a showstopper.
China has announced its China GB standard, but various government ministries have not agreed on what charging plug standard to use. The China GB standard is similar to the European IEC standard with some important differences that make it less safe. The State Grid, one of China’s two state-owned electric utilities, and SinoPec, a state-owned oil company that also owns gas stations, are arguing over how to resolve that issue.
Another unresolved issue is who will be allowed to sell the electricity used for charging, and at what price. The electricity price to residential customers is much cheaper than to industrial customers, but the State Grid wants to charge more than the industrial price to its customer for EV charging.
GM hopes these issues will be quickly resolved. It has a vested interested in boosting consumer confidence in its electrical vehicle technology. In November, it showed the production version of its Sail Springo EV, a pure electric vehicle it will offer to Chinese consumers.
There are already nascent car-sharing programs in China. The government of the east China city of Hangzhou offers car sharing through its EVnet company. Car leasing company Shanghai Dazhong has said it will offer car leasing.
Those cities have adopted their own plug standards, which may or may not be compatible. If Tianjin adopts a different standard, pure EV drivers in China may be limited to piddling around their own cities.
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