China’s EV ambitions slowed by lagging technology and 'market culture'

  • 15-Nov-2011 07:45 EST
Dr Zhang Jianuei CATARC.JPG

CATARC’s Dr. Zhang Jianuei delivered the Vehicle Battery Summit’s keynote address on Nov. 14. (Lindsay Brooke)

Blog from the 2011 SAE International Batteries and E-Motors Summit

SHANGHAI, CHINA, Monday evening, Nov. 14, 2011—China’s bold plan to produce 1 million electric vehicles per year by 2015 is being reevaluated by the Beijing government, with much work to be done on a revised plan, according to a top Chinese automotive official in his Nov. 14 keynote address at the 2011 SAE International Vehicle Battery Summit.

Calling the New Energy Vehicle (NEV) program a “strategic pillar” of his country’s overall energy and transportation future, Dr. Zhang Jianuei noted that China’s technical- and infrastructure-development progress to support high EV production rates has been slower than expected. Dr. Jianuei is Vice President of the China Automotive Technology and Research Center (CATARC), one of the co-organizers of the Battery Summit. At the Battery Summit, he replaced original keynoter Dr. Chen Jianguo, China’s Deputy Director for the Department of Industry, who fell ill one day before the event began.

“Our R&D efforts [in electrified vehicle technologies] are very good, despite China being a ‘late adopter,’” Dr. Jianuei told the audience of 160 engineers and technologists here at the Marriott Shanghai Hongqiao. “But we still lag Western partners in electric motors, technology advancement, and market culture,” he admitted, adding that “breakthroughs are needed.”

China’s ambitious NEV program, in which Beijing plans to invest $15.2 billion through 2020, is a keystone of the 12th Five Year Plan, the latest of the People’s Republic industrial directives instituted six decades ago by Mao Tse-tung. Electric vehicle production figures to play a prominent and increasing role, with a “spree” of NEV projects under development by China’s automakers, Dr. Jianuei said.

But currently China has only slightly more than 8000 EVs operating in pilot programs in 25 cities, he reported; each city was challenged to deploy at least 1000 pilot EVs. Hybrids and PHEVs are considered short-term “transitional” vehicles in the NEV plan.

Lack of a charging infrastructure was cited as a major challenge, as was lack of national standards for EVs, the first of which to be deployed is vehicle charging. The nation’s electrical grid utilities have joined with industry to develop a seven-pin vehicle charge connector aimed at enabling both ac and dc charging. Other standards for battery cells, spare parts, and V2G communications are yet to be developed.

China’s dozens of motorcycle and scooter makers have been angling to include low-speed electric trikes of the type typically used as inner-city taxis in the NEV mix. Some automakers also advocate that electric micro cars be included. But the government doesn’t support this due to the perceived lack of safety of these vehicles, Dr. Jianuei noted.

Major automakers are required to add NEV capacity or they will not be allowed to expand, he said.

The NEV issue is expected to be a hot topic when China’s 2012 National Congress convenes. “NEVs are a ‘must’ product among China’s automakers,” asserted Dr. Jianuei. “Everybody is very passionate about this sector,” and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is “very concerned about the future of NEV and fuel-cell EVs.”

Reflecting the reevaluation of the NEV program, Dr. Jianuei said, “Maybe by 2015 China will have 500,000 NEVs.”

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