China on a charge

Finweek English Edition - - Economic Trends & Analysis - HOWARD PREECE howardp@fin­week.co.za

THERE WAS A RE­PORT in The Times of Lon­don on 7 June head­lined “China cracks the elec­tric car”. That noted: “In the week that Gen­eral Motors filed for Chap­ter II bank­ruptcy pro­tec­tion, the cen­tre of grav­ity of the word’s car in­dus­try shifted per­cep­ti­bly to­wards China. Some of the big­gest strides in mo­tor en­gi­neer­ing are be­ing made on an in­dus­trial es­tate 90 miles south-west of Shang­hai.”

The re­port added: “This is where en­gi­neers for New Power have beaten West­ern ri­vals to achieve what they claim is the first pro­duc­tion-ready all-elec­tric car to of­fer a per­for­mance range com­pa­ra­ble to petrol-pow­ered ve­hi­cles.”

Writer Ben Younkman con­tin­ued: “For years en­gi­neers in Europe, Amer­ica and Ja­pan have strug­gled to achieve a bat­tery small and light enough to fit a fam­ily car yet ca­pa­ble of stor­ing enough en­ergy to keep it go­ing for a prac­ti­cal range be­tween top-ups.”

Younkman adds that New Power has “lithium-ion bat­ter­ies that can be re-charged within six-eight hours by plug­ging them into a con­ven­tional socket.” Here’s what could also be the miss­ing link. A few months ago leg­endary US en­tre­pre­neur War­ren Buf­fett made a lit­tleno­ticed an­nounce­ment that his Berk­shire Hath­away group had paid $230m for 10% of an ob­scure Chi­nese com­pany, BYD, with par­tic­u­lar in­ter­ests in bat­ter­ies for elec­tric cars. That sounds as if China re­ally is mak­ing ma­jor progress in the bat­tery busi­ness. It gives a lot more cred­i­bil­ity to New Power’s an­nounce­ments.

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