Beijing Auto Show

Is China Ready for Electric Vehicles?

Domestic Companies Have Made Great Strides Developing Environmentally Friendly Cars, but Can't Sell Them, Says Yang Jian

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Electric cars made by foreign and domestic car makers were prominent at the Beijing Auto Show 2010, like Suzuki's SX4 FCV, a hybrid version of the Swift.
Electric cars made by foreign and domestic car makers were prominent at the Beijing Auto Show 2010, like Suzuki's SX4 FCV, a hybrid version of the Swift. Credit: Normandy Madden

BEIJING ( -- Counting the large number of new-energy vehicles at this year's Beijing auto show, it's easy to believe -- incorrectly -- that China's car industry, now the world's largest, will soon go electric.

While just about every international automaker used the event to introduce China to another e-vehicle, their efforts were outdone by domestic competitors.

Yang Jian
Yang Jian
BYD Auto Co., a domestic leader in alternative energy vehicle development, showed two all-electric models. So did Zhejiang Geely Holding Co., Chery Automobile Co. and Lifan Automobile Co.

Likewise, the new products put on show by state-owned companies like China FAW Group, Chongqing Changan Automobile Co. and Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Co. were mostly electric cars.

So is China about to lead the world into a new era of green motoring?

Hardly. Engage executives of these automakers in conversation, and it quickly becomes apparent that none of them is sure how soon they can actually start selling their electric vehicles in the market.

Nissan has already started taking orders for its Leaf electric car in the United States. But at a media roundtable at the Beijing show, company president and CEO Carlos Ghosn said he is still waiting to see what incentives the government will offer for electric vehicles in China.

Changan is one of several state-owned automakers taking part in a major government initiative to commercialize new energy vehicles in China.

But at an industry forum held last week in Beijing, company president Xu Liuping admitted that mass production of new energy vehicles including electric vehicles still faces "many problems."

Mr. Xu didn't specify what the problems are. But at the same forum, Geely's technology chief pointed out that among other things, a lack of clear government incentive policies is hindering the development of electric vehicles in China.

Returning to my hotel from the show site last week, I saw a TV program about the absence of unified technical standards for the construction of battery-charging stations for electric vehicles.

According to the program, different cities are building stations according to different standards. Even worse, in the north China city of Shijiazhuang, a state-owned grid operator and a private company have each built a charging station according to their own standards.

Unless technical standards are set for battery charging, this waste and chaos will surely continue. And unless the government enacts clear incentives, most of the electric vehicles now on display in Beijing will remain nothing but show products.

Yang Jian is the managing editor of Automotive News China, a publication of Crain Communications.

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