China provides energetic boost to hybrid and alternative fuel vehicle development

  • 08-Apr-2009 04:55 EDT
IMG_6330.JPG

Chery's first plug-in electric vehicle, the S18, rolls off the production line in Wuhu, Anhui Province on Feb. 16.

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­­­­­The Beijing Olympics saw a total of 80 hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles on public demonstration as ordinary taxis and transport for Olympic officials last year. After the Games the cars were quickly whisked back to their respective manufacturers and stripped down for evaluation. The Olympic hybrid car program had been the first stage in a far-reaching plan to gradually introduce China’s people to the concept of energy-saving and more environmentally friendly vehicles. The vehicles taking part had performed their onerous ferrying duties without fault, enabling the manufacturers to go on to the next stage in the process.

Late in 2008, one of China’s newest car manufacturers, BYD of Shenzhen, announced the world’s first production plug-in hybrid car. A series of announcements by China’s other domestic car manufacturers surrounded this astonishing news. Brilliance announced its medium-powered hybrid at the Guangzhou fair in November and Chery put two models – one a hybrid and the other a fully electric car – onto the market early in the new year. The local press was full of environmental claims, but some of the prices were almost double those of conventional models.

February 2009 saw the annual Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Beijing, at which the Ministry of Finance publicly announced the provision of 10 billion yuan (around U.S. $1.4 billion) of extremely generous subsidies for purchasers of hybrid and alternative energy (“new energy” as they are known in China) vehicles.

China’s new large-scale public demonstration and trial funded by the Ministry of Finance will take place in 13 large urban areas, including Beijing and Shanghai. Each local area is to purchase new hybrid and alternative energy vehicles, comprising government transport, public service (postal service and sanitation, for example) and public transport vehicles. The vast majority will be passenger cars and light commercial vehicles, and they will include mild, medium, and full hybrids, range extender hybrids, alternative fuel, and fully electric. Enormous subsidies are also on hand to support the purchase of heavy duty fuel cell buses.

“We are investing a lot of money to ensure that each urbanized area takes at least 1000 vehicles, and if the program succeeds, it will help to raise private buyers’ awareness and acceptance of these new technologies and expand their coverage,” a Ministry of Finance official who was unwilling to be named told AEI.

The program will run for three years and the funds will come from various sources, including the state, local government, and local public transport authorities. The official said the funds will not be available up front for purchase of these vehicles. Instead, the money "will be refunded for each purchase upon production of the relevant vehicle purchase documents."

Details of the subsidies:

Trial regions

Beijing, Changchun, Changsha, Chongqing, Dalian, Hangzhou, Hefei, Jinan, Kunming, Nanchang, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Wuhan

Vehicle type

Chinese yuan

U.S.$

Note

Passenger car and light commercial vehicle subsidies

Hybrid

Up to 50,000

$7315

divided into five levels, depending on economy

Pure electric

60,000

$8780


Fuel cell

250,000

$36,580


Hybrid fuel economy

min. 5% improvement for light commercial vehicles, min. 10% improvement for passenger cars

Subsidies for buses over 30 ft (9.1 m) long

Hybrid

80,000 - 420,000

$11,700 - $61,450

depends on battery chemistry (lead-acid, NiMH, or lithium)

Pure electric

500,000

$73,150


Fuel cell

600,000

$87,790


The new subsidies will provide a healthy stimulus to ensure that high technology R&D on hybrid and new energy veh­icle continues around the country – by universities, suppliers, and manufacturers themselves.

­One form of motive power that was conspicuous b­y its absence was the diesel engine. China faces a relative shortage of this fuel as a result of its relatively high production cost and competition for diesel and other heavy fuel oil by other industries in China.

­AEI spoke to a number of domestic car manufacturers to see how the program was progressing. At present there is a high level of activity as manufacturers demonstrate vehicles and negotiate purchase contracts with various government bodies. Initial contracts are for small numbers of vehicles, but most manufacturers speak of a shift to series production within the next two years as volume increases and the costs begin to come down. China Brilliance, for instance, speaks of a gradual ramp up to volume production some time during the course of 2010-2011.

Details of current hybrid and alternative energy vehicles in China:

Brilliance

The BS6 “Zunchi” medium hybrid sedan uses a locally developed turbocharged 1.8-L gasoline engine. The electric traction motor is rated at 10 kW and uses an NiMH battery pack, which, along with the vehicle controller, is produced in the Shanghai region. The powertrain performs start-stop, regenerative braking, and boost functions, with a claimed improvement in economy of up to 35% against similar-sized sedans.

Brilliance, which assembles BMW 3- and 5-Series sedans in partnership in Shenyang, has equipped the car with a manual gearbox. Negotiations to supply a limited number of vehicles to urban areas are ongoing. The company also has plans to introduce a mild hybrid vehicle in the near future, possibly based on its new FRV hatchback model.

BYD

Shenzhen-based BYD’s F3 DM plug-in hybrid is a "range extender." It uses an electric motor for traction, with battery charging and occasional peak power demand assistance being provided by a 1.0-L gasoline engine. Although the company has actively promoted the U.S. $22,000 sales price of this model, it is, as with all of China’s other hybrid and alternative energy vehicles, primarily intended for purchase by government departments. The company has achieved a handful of sales to private buyers, however.

The BYD-patented battery uses a novel lithium iron phosphate chemistry that is said to be much more cost-effective, enabling it to provide an affordable challenge to today's lithium batteries.

BYD had already shown a plug-in hybrid version of its midsize sedan, the F6 DM, at various motor shows and is planning to introduce this model in the next few months. The all-wheel-drive pure electric e6 lifestyle monobox concept vehicle, however, contrary to earlier production announcements, is now not expected to go into production within the next two or three years.

Chery

Chery announced the 1.6-L A5 BSG (belt starter generator) last January and is working on a similarly equipped A3 sedan and hatchback for launch around the middle of the year. The A5 BSG’s purchase price makes it the only start-stop hybrid on the market available for under 80,000 yuan (U.S. $11,700). The company is also readying an ISG (integrated starter generator) mild hybrid version of the A5 sedan, which it had already demonstrated during the Olympics. It links a 1.3-L engine to a 12 kW electric motor running on 151 V.

Chery sent more than 100 production managers to work with Ricardo in the U.K. to develop its BSG and ISG models. The collaboration resulted in the design of not only the vehicles themselves but also included the vehicle controller, battery, and traction motor elements.

Chery announced production of its S18 electric five-door hatchback city car in February. It uses the same platform as the seven-model Faira city car range that will soon enter series production. A 40 Ah lithium iron phosphate battery provides 336 V current to power the 40 kW electric motor. Maximum speed is a claimed 120 km/h (75 mph) and range is 120-150 km (75-93 mi). A full charge takes 4-6 hours.

FAW

China’s first domestic vehicle manufacturer is working on a full hybrid capable of running long distances under electric power. The B70HEV, also known as the Besturn, uses a bespoke AMT (automated manual transmission) and is expected to supply up to 20 units to Tianjin and Chengdu by the end of 2010. The ramp up to series production is expected in 2012. FAW also plans to produce 100 hybrid buses for Dalian and Changchun.

Geely

Geely’s rounded little Panda city hatchback is currently being readied for the market in pure plug-in electric form, but the production date has not yet been fixed. Domestic manufacturers of pure electric and plug-in hybrids face the challenge of how to charge the battery: the vast majority of Chinese households do not have garages and do not have readily available power sources with which to charge their vehicles.

This should not affect the electric Panda’s sales performance with regards to the current large-scale encouragement program. The Geely spokesman said, “Government departments generally have garage parking facilities where the vehicle can be recharged. The problem of where to charge the vehicle for the general public is still a challenge that needs to be solved, but we are working on it.”

Geely has also developed CNG and ethanol-powered versions of a number of its existing vehicles and already produces these in limited numbers. A new methanol-powered drivetrain is also being developed but as yet is unable to go to market because “the government has not yet established any rules for this power source.”

The challenge ahead

The Ministry of Finance’s launch of this massive hybrid and alternative energy program is obviously a source of great encouragement to the car manufacturers. But the issue of high cost remains, at least for the initial limited production runs. The OEMs obviously have their work cut out as they strive to bring costs down to acceptable levels, notwithstanding the generous subsidies that have been offered to ease the process. In addition to this factor, the automakers also have to ensure that their models are able to provide robust – three years or 150,000 km (90,000 mi) – fault-free performance, along with all the necessary servicing, spare parts, and maintenance network.

With their low emissions and modern engine designs capable of meeting Euro 4 and 5 regulations, however, the makers of gasoline-engined cars appear best placed to take early advantage of worldwide export opportunities for energy-­saving vehicles in coming years.

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