China takes fast lane to a greener to­mor­row

Rent­ing ul­tra small plug-in cars to run around the streets of cities is help­ing the coun­try move to­ward a more sus­tain­able fu­ture

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS -

SHANG­HAI — Feng Jing­wei walked to a Roewe e50 parked at the Hongqiao trans­port hub in Shang­hai after re­turn­ing from a busi­ness trip.

He unplugged the charger from the white-green hatch­back and hung it on the charg­ing pile, be­fore driv­ing to his of­fice 12 kilo­me­ters away. It was the fourth time Feng had used the car in a month.

The ul­tra small plug-in model was a rental that he booked on­line, one of 220 EvCard elec­tric ve­hi­cles, or EVs, lined up at the Hongqiao hub, near a high-speed rail­way sta­tion and two air­port ter­mi­nals.

“I don’t have to queue up for a taxi or jam my­self into a sub­way car­riage,” said Feng, 31, who runs a small busi­ness in one of China’s most ex­pen­sive cities.

“I don’t have a car, but it’s get­ting eas­ier to book one on an app and is usu­ally cheaper than hail­ing a taxi,” he added.

Five min­utes after Feng pulled out with the Roewe e50, a Ch­ery EQ filled its park­ing slot.

Lu Li­uxi got out of the minicar, con­nected the charger and scanned a sen­sor on the wind­shield with his smart­phone be­fore hear­ing a beep.

“It’s avail­able now,” said Lu, an EvCard em­ployee, whose job is to move cars be­tween park­ing sta­tions as in­structed by a dis­patch cen­ter.

“Hongqiao is the busiest place among all EvCard sta­tions in Shang­hai, and we send cars here many times a day,” said the vet­eran driver, who has been em­ployed by EvCard for three months.

Launched in 2015 by Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Auto City Group Ltd, or SIAC, EvCard is China’s first EV rental ser­vice, de­ploy­ing 3,000 sta­tions and about 6,000 cars in Shang­hai.

It also serves a fur­ther 23 Chi­nese cities.

The rate is 15 yuan ($2.2) for the first 30 min­utes, with each minute a fur­ther 0.6 yuan in town, and 0.5 yuan out of town. The daily rent ceil­ing is 219 yuan for choices such as the Roewe e50 or Ch­ery EQ . A BMW i3, a more up­scale car, costs more.

Last month, the State Coun­cil an­nounced plans to de­velop the shar­ing econ­omy, amid ef­forts to boost in­no­va­tion and en­trepreneur­ship.

Rong Wen­wei, chair of the SIAC board, said that when the idea of EV rental first came to China, a num­ber of large ve­hi­cle rental firms were in­ter­ested but dragged their feet due to un­cer­tainty over prof­itabil­ity.

State-funded SIAC, though, had no such hes­i­ta­tion.

“In such a metropo­lis, each step to make the streets less choked and the air less pol­luted is worth tak­ing,” said Zhu Jing, who is in charge of the EvCard busi­ness di­vi­sion. The ef­fort is pay­ing off. EvCard now leads the world’s green car rental ser­vice with the most EVs, self-ser­vice rental spots and mem­ber­ship clients, and is set to make a profit in Shang­hai next year.

By 2020, it plans to build a fleet of more than 300,000 cars to serve in 100 Chi­nese cities. “It isn’t im­pos­si­ble that cities like Shang­hai will see car num­bers drop,” Zhu said.

His words were echoed by Zhu Xichan, a pro­fes­sor at the School of Au­to­mo­tive Stud­ies at Tong ji Univer­sity in Shang­hai.

“The car has turned from a lux­ury to a house­hold item in China. Limited re­sources and roads make car shar­ing the most con­ve­nient trans- port so­lu­tion,” he said.

“The idea of shar­ing, plus new en­ergy ve­hi­cles, may well be an an­swer to pri­vate trans­porta­tion while the num­ber of cars can also be re­duced,” Zhu added.

Sta­tis­tics are en­cour­ag­ing. DriveNow, a car shar­ing ser­vice launched in 2011 in Ger­many, has pulled down pri­vate car use in Mu­nich by 25 per­cent in the past few years, ac­cord­ing to re­ports.

While Los An­ge­les is es­ti­mated to have re­moved 1,000 pri­vate ve­hi­cles off the road, a Paris-based firm is part­ner­ing with the Los An­ge­les Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion to sup­ply 200 EVs and 100 charg­ers on var­i­ous streets.

“A to­tal of 121,425 EVs have been reg­is­tered in Shang­hai, al­most dou­bling the num­ber 12 months ago,” said Ding Xiao­hua, deputy di­rec­tor of Shang­hai’s EV Pub­lic Data Col­lect­ing, Mon­i­tor­ing and Re­search Cen­ter, or EvData, also af­fil­i­ated to SIAC.

“All those EVs are be­ing mon­i­tored here — the en­tire EvCard fleet as well as all pri­vately-owned and pub­lic ones like elec­tric buses and san­i­ta­tion ve­hi­cles,” Ding said in front of a con­gested e-map of the down­town on a huge screen in an EvData mon­i­tor­ing room in Jiad­ing, a mu­nic­i­pal district, where the SIAC is head­quar­tered.

When the cen­ter was set up in 2012, he re­called, data came from only eight cars, all han­drecorded. Now the plat­form is the world’s big­gest in terms of data­base size, the num­ber of in­volved au­tomak­ers, mod­els of cars and to­tal mileage.

A car’s lo­ca­tion, speed, bat­tery ca­pac­ity, volt­age and tem­per­a­ture can be pro­duced in just 30 sec­onds.

While big data can be used for driv­ing be­hav­ioral stud­ies and car per­for­mance eval­u­a­tion, ac­ci­dents can be alerted and pre­vented when cer­tain pa­ram­e­ters are breached, ac­cord­ing to Ding.

Pro­fes­sor Roger Raufer, of en­ergy, re­sources and en­vi­ron­ment at the Hop­kins-Nan­jing Cen­ter, stressed that China has an “ob­vi­ous strate­gic vi­sion” in EVs and clean en­ergy trans­port.

“Although it is first driven by its own do­mes­tic needs for bet­ter air qual­ity and fewer oil im­ports, China’s sheer scale and global as­pi­ra­tions make it a tremen­dously for­mi­da­ble player on the in­ter­na­tional scene,” said Raufer, a former ad­vi­sor to the UN Di­vi­sion for Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment in New York.

Last year, over 507,000 EVs were sold in China, more than the com­bined sales in the United States, Nor­way, the United King­dom, France, Ger­many, Swe­den and the Nether­lands.

Shang­hai now has 10 per­cent of China’s green cars.

As more EVs hit the road, there is a grow­ing need to make them safer, smarter and more linked.

An en­closed test zone for con­nected and self-driv­ing cars in Jiad­ing is where many Chi­nese and for­eign smart cars are tested be­fore be­ing mass pro­duced.

Known as the F-Zone, the site is con­sid­ered the best in China and is one of the most ad­vanced in the world.

Con­nected cars are put through as many as 50 sim­u­la­tion pro­grams, such as pedes­trian and non-mo­tor ve­hi­cle cross­ing alerts, in­ter­sec­tion col­li­sion avoid­ance and col­lab­o­ra­tive high­way fleets.

Au­to­mated driv­ing tests in­clude col­li­sion avoid­ance, ex­it­ing sys­tems un­der dan­ger­ous con­di­tions and re­sponse abil­ity.

“The zone is blueprinted to reach be­yond an en­closed area for real road tests and of­fer more sim­u­la­tions, such as in dif­fer­ent weather con­di­tions,” said Gu Leim­ing, from SIAC man­age­ment, who su­per­vises the F-Zone.

Ex­perts in­clud­ing Li Ke­qiang, pro­fes­sor of the Depart­ment of Au­to­mo­tive Engi­neer­ing at Ts­inghua Univer­sity, be­lieve that after new en­ergy cars, in­tel­li­gent con­nected ve­hi­cles will be the next big thing in the auto in­dus­try.

China has been the world’s largest auto mar­ket for years.

The coun­try’s home-grown man­u­fac­tur­ers have gained a one-third share of the do­mes­tic mar­ket, or 28 mil­lion ve­hi­cles last year, turn­ing from im­i­ta­tors to ini­tia­tors in re­search and de­vel­op­ment.

“With a huge and ro­bust mar­ket, an ever stronger in­for­ma­tion in­dus­try, in­no­va­tive in­dus­trial poli­cies and the self­de­vel­oped Bei­Dou Nav­i­ga­tion Satel­lite Sys­tem, China might have an edge on com­peti­tors in de­vel­op­ing in­tel­li­gent con­nected ve­hi­cles,” Li said.

In 2015, the coun­try an­nounced the “Made in China 2025” ini­tia­tive, fo­cus­ing on pro­mot­ing high-end man­u­fac­tur­ing, with en­ergy-sav­ing and new EV mod­els be­ing key goals.

By 2020, Shang­hai is set to work on about 60 ma­jor in­dus­trial projects, each worth over 1 bil­lion yuan. The de­vel­op­ment of in­tel­li­gent con­nected ve­hi­cles is on the list.

“Ef­fi­cient gov­er­nance, ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies and a large group of con­sumers ea­ger to en­ter the con­nected era may give China the lead in the world­wide race to build con­nected cars and fu­ture trans­port sys­tem,” a re­port by the Swedish trade and in­vest­ment coun­cil stated.

But China’s road to the fu­ture is not with­out bumps.

Many ar­gue that the soar­ing num­ber of new en­ergy cars is the re­sult of gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies, and quite a num­ber of driv­ers still pre­fer go­ing to gas sta­tions after buy­ing plug-in hy­brid EVs or PHEVs.

“If that is in­deed the case com­ply­ing with our data col­lec­tion, mea­sures should be taken and the car owner’s credit rat­ing should be af­fected,” EvData’s Ding said.

He also ap­pre­ci­ated that use of per­sonal data may be a con­cern to some.

“While us­ing data for fu­ture de­ci­sion mak­ing on traf­fic op­ti­miza­tion, we set col­lect­ing points on main roads in­stead of trac­ing in­di­vid­ual ve­hi­cle move­ments too close to spe­cific res­i­den­tial spots,” he said.

Ex­perts also pointed out that car rental can be more sci­en­tific and friendly if it uses a “hand­shake” fea­ture, al­low­ing a ve­hi­cle to be trans­ferred be­tween two cus­tomers on the fly. This in turn will save time look­ing for a park­ing place.

As for main­te­nance of shared ve­hi­cles, EvCard is in­tro­duc­ing an ap­praisal sys­tem in which each cus­tomer can grade pre­vi­ous users, re­sult­ing in a ref­er­ence for mem­bers’ credit rat­ings.

Still, most ex­perts re­main pos­i­tive about the fu­ture of EVs.

“The world needs a bet­ter way for peo­ple and goods to get around, and we be­lieve au­ton­o­mous, con­nected ve­hi­cles are an i mpor­tant com­po­nent of the so­lu­tion,” Mark Sch­lis­sel, pres­i­dent of the Univer­sity of Michi­gan, said.

Last year, he signed an in­vest­ment deal with a Chi­nese firm to ad­vance au­ton­o­mous, con­nected ve­hi­cles and ro­botic tech­nolo­gies.

David Frey, a part­ner for Mar­kets Strat­egy at KPMG in China, felt that com­pa­nies rec­og­nized the un­wa­ver­ing com­mit­ment of the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment to de­ve­l­ope ad­vanced new en­ergy au­to­mo­bile man­u­fac­tur­ing.

“We can ex­pect that ci­ty­based ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with the in­fra­struc­ture and busi­ness mod­els re­quired to sup­port ex­pan­sion of elec­tric ve­hi­cles will be ro­bust,” Frey wrote in the lat­est is­sue of In­sight, the jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Cham­ber of Com­merce in Shang­hai.

... each step to make the streets less choked and the air less pol­luted is worth tak­ing.”

Zhu Jing, head of the EvCard busi­ness di­vi­sion of SIAC planed size of the EvCard e-car fleet by 2020


Vis­i­tors in­spect a Roewe e50 elec­tric car at an auto fair in Shang­hai.


Cus­tomers go through the book­ing process of rent­ing an EvCard elec­tric car at the Shang­hai Hongqiao Rail­way Sta­tion hub.

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