Charge of the clean-car brigade
As the pedal hits the metal in a motoring revolution, bumpy roads lie ahead, but so do clear skies, Du Xiaoying reports.
The Chinese government is committed to bring clear, blue skies and clean, fresh air to cities nationwide on a more permanent basis in the years to come. One way of helping deliver them: electric cars.
The goal, to have 5 million electric vehicles on the nation’s roads by 2020, thus making China a pacesetter in the field, is a tall order, but measures now being unfolded make it clear that the government means business.
Such success will not only help rid big cities of smog, but also put the country on track to honor a pledge it made a year ago to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 60 percent to 65 percent of the 2005 level by 2030.
In September, the State Council issued a set of directives to speed up the adoption of what in China are called new energy vehicles. They include cars that are fully or partly powered by electricity, such as battery electric and plug-in hybrids.
An executive meeting of the State Council called for more financial incentives for anyone using or buying new energy vehicles, for more research and development of those that use batteries and fuel cells, and for local governments to promote the purchase of new energy vehicles, including rescinding any measures deterring people from buying them.
China became the world’s biggest car market five years ago, and the country’s new energy car market now seems to be on the cusp of pulling off a similar feat. In the first seven months of this year about 90,000 new energy vehicles were sold in China, compared with about 63,000 in the United States, the China Association of Auto Manufacturers said.
“China has the potential to be the world’s largest electric car market,” said Dong Yang, vice-chairman and secretarygeneral of the association. The country’s new energy vehicle market is moving from a “primary stage” to a “fast-growing stage”, he said.
Given that more than 23 million petrol-driven vehicles were sold in China last year, those numbers may seem minuscule, but the rise in sales appears to be gathering pace. Last year 74,800 new energy vehicles were sold, triple the number the year before — as was the number of cars produced — and sales in the first seven months of this year rose 260 percent on the corresponding period last year. eager to turn this revolution into a money-spinner.
If that is not enough for the municipality to grapple with as it coaxes people to buy electric vehicles, it must also keep a tight rein on the numbers. If it does not, all it will produce is more choke points on the capital’s already choked roads.
On this matter the rise in the numbers of cars on the nation’s roads over the past 20 years are eloquent. Last November the Traffic Control Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security said the country had 154 million privately owned motor vehicles, double the number just five years earlier, and 10 times the number in 2000.
Though thousands of kilometers of roads have been added to the national road network, the growth in the number of motor vehicles has far outstripped their ability to cope.
In October 2008 Beijing took decisive action with a system under which on one workday a week between 7am and 8pm, cars whose license plates end with a particular digit are barred from using the roads. Then, in January 2011, it introduced a system of bimonthly lotteries for those wanting to buy a new car, a measure that Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Tianjin have also adopted.
In the first ballot in Beijing, 190,000 or so motorists put their names forward for about 17,500 license plates, giving them a 1 in 9 chance of success. The numbers of those throwing their names into the hat has ballooned, and in August more than 3 million hopefuls vied for just 20,000 plates, giving them a less than 1 in 190 chance of success.
With diminishing odds of winning, desperate applicants are now turning to the separate lottery for new energy car license plates, whose odds are a lot kinder. In August, 8,737 people entered a ballot for 3,333 license plates, giving them a better than 1 in 3 chance of success. However, as the queues for these license plates lengthen, so do the odds of winning.
In April, Beijing, in an attempt to make new energy vehicles more attractive, exempted pure electric cars from the day-of-use rationing system. The research company Nielsen and the China Association of Auto Manufacturers said in a report in August that the more generous application of license plate rules for new energy vehicles would favorably influence the decision of 16 percent of 700 respondents on whether to buy a new energy car.
However, despite all the best efforts by authorities to make the cars attractive, would-be buyers continue to be deterred by their cost, the frequent need to recharge and the lack of charging stations.
“For example, you cannot drive an all-electric vehicle from Beijing to Shanghai and rely on charging along the way,” wrote professor Jochem Heizmann, a member of Volkswagen’s group board of management with responsibility for China, in an essay in May.
“This is because the infrastructure has not been completed yet — and even once it is, the standard may not be universal. To this end, we need dependable, stable technologies. This way, in the future we can channel our development investments in the right direction and contribute towards advancing plug-in hybrid technologies.”
In early October the State Council issued a directive that calls for accelerating the installation of charging stations. It requires that newly built residential properties either install recharging facilities in their car parks or have all the equipment in place to do so.
Drivers are not only having their patience tested but also their pockets stretched, too, by pricing rules that aim to make owning and running such infrastructure an attractive proposition for investors. Since those policies were introduced in June, prices for charging vehicles have risen and the economic attraction of the cars has lost some shine.
In Beijing the upper limit for electricity charges per kilowatt-hour is 15 percent of that day’s maximum retail price per liter of No 92 petrol in Beijing.
Against that, last year the State Council announced that it would make buying new energy vehicles more attractive by exempting them from sales taxes levied on motor vehicles. That comes on top of rebates ranging between 31,500 yuan ($4,960) and 54,000 yuan for pure electric cars, depending on how far they can travel on a single charge, and 31,500 yuan for a plug-in hybrid.
Local governments are also doling out attractive rebates to would-be owners.
Hao Yan contribute to the story.
Contact the writer at email@example.com
An electric car is shown at an exhibition in Guangzhou, Guangdong province in August.