At China’s green show, questions emerge about electric cars
Christine Tierney / The Detroit News
Beijing — From General Motors Co. to BYD Automobile Co., global and Chinese carmakers are promoting their electric cars and prototypes at China’s green-themed auto show, but executives are also voicing doubts here about the promise of this new clean technology.
At an industry conference on the eve of the Beijing show press preview, a Chinese auto executive today questioned the government’s strong push to promote plug-in hybrids and zero-emission electric cars.
China relies on coal to generate 83 percent of the country’s electricity, said Huang Xiangdong, vice president of Guangzhou Automobile Group Corp., a major Chinese carmaker that has ventures with Honda Motor Co. and other global players.
Because of China’s heavy use of coal to produce electricity, “battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids do not save more energy than conventional cars on a well-to-wheel analysis,” said Huang. “We think in China it’s not the right time to promote pure electric vehicles.”
Huang’s comments sparked a lively debate among auto industry executives, who are waiting for the central government to detail the subsidies and incentives it will offer to promote demand for electric cars. The government was expected to disclose them last month, but has postponed the announcement to July.
An executive at BYD Auto said the concerns about carbon dioxide emissions resulting from the way electricity is generated in China are valid –but he said that was not the only issue. “There are broader benefits of electric vehicles, such as reducing the dependence on foreign oil,” Henry Li, general manager of BYD’s auto export trade division, said at the Global Automotive Symposium in Beijing.
China’s oil imports are growing and likely to become enormous, driving up oil prices worldwide, if auto sales continue to expand at a brisk pace. China became the world’s largest auto market, overtaking the depressed U.S. market, after sales surged 51.6 percent.
Chinese auto sales are expected to grow a further 17 percent this year to 16 million cars and trucks, led by a 21.5 percent rise in passenger cars, Xu Changming, director of economic research and senior economist at the State Information Center, told the conference. Xu said tax breaks and other government incentives were underpinning demand by making vehicles affordable to a bigger segment of China’s huge population.
J.D. Power and Associates forecast today that sales of Chinese passenger vehicles — cars, SUVs and minivans — would grow to 13.55 million vehicles in 2015, a 55 percent increase over 2009 levels.
Concerned about rising oil imports and the pollution already choking China’s big cities, the central government has spurred automakers to develop clean, alternative technologies. Officials also believe that China’s fledgling carmakers will be able to compete better in new areas than in established fields where the big global automakers have decades of experience.
BYD, for instance, is viewed as a potentially promising automaker because it has a solid track record as a battery manufacturer — and battery technology is crucial to electric cars. BYD showed an electric sedan, the e6, at the Detroit auto show in January and plans to market the car in the United States and China before the end of the year. Li said BYD was still targeting a U.S. launch this year, probably on the West Coast.
The Beijing car show, formally known as Auto China 2010, is spotlighting electric cars and other so-called “new energy vehicles” with the slogan: “For a green tomorrow.” GM will unveil a Cadillac XTS Platinum Concept plug-in hybrid in Beijing, as well as display the Chevrolet Volt.
Nissan Motor Co. will display its battery-powered, all-electric Leaf car, which goes on sale this year in Japan and the United States.
Nissan may produce the Leaf and some of its components, including possibly the battery, in China, depending on what incentives the government unveils in July, said Shouichi Matsumoto, senior general manager for corporate planning at Nissan. “After the government’s announcement, we’ll form a plan,” he said.
The government has now designated 20 cities that will have charging infrastructure for electric cars, as part of its goal to have 500,000 new energy vehicles on the road in the next few years. Some auto executives said the government’s policy seems set, but it may be rethinking the timing and cost of electric car production.
In China, it’s not just the government that’s enthusiastic about electric cars, but Chinese consumers as well, said Brian Link, a consultant with Ernst & Young.
A recent survey it conducted found that 60 percent of Chinese respondents would buy or strongly consider an electric car. “That’s five times higher than in any other country” where the same survey has been conducted, Link said.
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.