Beijing appears to be rethinking its singular focus on electric vehicles as a way to reduce fuel consumption and seems ready to revise its alternative-energy vehicle estimates as it becomes increasingly evident that the city's electric vehicle targets were completely unrealistic.

Beijing – and in some ways, the whole of China – had set out to leapfrog conventional engine technology by developing and manufacturing huge amounts of electric vehicles. In particular, the city had hoped its push to develop plug-ins would give it an advantage over the West in electric vehicle technology. But hopes and dreams don't always jive with reality.

Plug-in vehicle sales in China have been poor and, even though no formal decision has been taken to abandon the nation's grand electric vehicle scheme, some higher-ups in Beijing are reportedly rethinking the policy. For example, The Globe and Mail reports:
Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, reflected intense debate within the bureaucracy recently when he published an article in a Communist Party journal questioning China's road map toward alternative powertrain vehicles.
Meanwhile, Peter Huang, powertrain forecast manager at IHS Automotive in Shanghai, expects Beijing to broader its approach and look into "hybrids and all vehicles that can reduce fuel consumption."

Forbes presents a compelling story on this notion that China and its sole focus on electric vehicles don't mix. Here's a particularly striking excerpt:
Take Warren Buffett. In September 2008, the "Oracle of Omaha" took a 10-percent stake in BYD, the Shenzhen-based battery and vehicle maker, for $200 million. The move landed him on the cover of Fortune in 2009, inside the company's e6 model with the now-famous caption, "Warren Buffett hasn't just seen the car of the future, he's sitting in the driver's seat."
But was he really sitting in the vehicle of future? Forbes says BYD has sold a grand total of 53 (!) e6s since March of 2010, with nearly all of those going to local taxi companies, which leads us to this question: How can a vehicle that doesn't sell represent the future?


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  • 36 Comments
      Spec
      • 3 Years Ago
      Completely leapfrogging and going straight to EVs is too ambitious. Like all new technology, it will start small and grow. The low up-front cost of ICE and hybrid is hard to resist. Anyone who expected to leapfrog ICE wasn't thinking clearly. But they need to keep incentives available so the market can build even it is small at first. With government incentives, the early-adopters will create a market. Subsequent revisions will bring the up-front price down. Meanwhile, the price of oil will continue going up. A slow cross-over will occur as the low cost of electric "fuel" (and high cost of gasoline) make up for the high up-front cost of an EV. To say that EVs are a failure now would be to say that CFLs were failure 15 years ago or to say LED lighting is a failure today. China is probably not a good market for EVs since there are probably two types of car buyers: 1) Rich people who don't care what gas costs. 2) New car buyers that already have system of getting to work (bike, walk, mass transit, etc.) and want the car for long trips where EVs suck. Right now the EV market is mainly tree-huggers, technogeeks, and national security mavens. Not big segments of the Chinese market.
        2 Wheeled Menace
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Spec
        I completely agree with you. Being too ambituous to jump in the EV car game has been the downfall of many many companies.. remember 2007 and 2008 when ABG was all about news stories from little EV companies selling < 100 mile cars for $40k and up? We can't replace the gas car with an EV yet.. not at a price that 95% of the world can swallow. Remember when cell phones, computers, and LCD televisions used to cost and arm and a leg?..
        Dan Frederiksen
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Spec
        Spec, the market? really? did the market bring us EVs? or did something else. the market brought us global warming and peak oil and has fought to keep EVs down. and you are equally wrong on leapfrogging to EVs. it can easily be done. light and aerodynamic does it. it really shouldn't be that hard to understand
          Spec
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Dan Frederiksen
          "The market" doesn't bring us anything. Engineers and scientists bring us new products. The market merely decides what will be commercially successful such that many copies of the product will be sold and new improved versions will be developed. Yes, we can develop all sorts of cool light and aerodynamic EVs. I think the solar projects are amazing in that they can propel a human with no input other than sunlight! However, they are not commercially viable. Being really cool is not enough . . . you need a product that millions find to be useful such that you can reach the levels of mass manufacturing scale needed to bring costs down. Think, Aptera nMG, Wheego, EV-1, etc. all had their own charms . . . but none of them were found to be sufficiently interesting enough by a large segment of the market in order to bring down manufacturing costs. And it is peak oil that that will cause EVs to eventually succeed. Eventually, the high cost of fueling a gas car will out-weigh the more expensive up-front cost of an EV such that the market shifts to EVs in a large scale. Until then, EVs need continued government support since the support will ensure that the EVs will be available when that date comes such that EVs can be ramped up quickly instead of having a massive economic disruption caused by a lack of an alternative.
        EVSUPERHERO
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Spec
        Their was a time when the Chinese were considered humble. That time is gone, they want powerful prestigious cars with no compromise, sound familiar. My friend married a Chinese women and goes to China all the time. She wanted and received a BMW SUV to drive while she is residing in the US. I doubt her and her family drive anything less while in China as well. Buick is very much loved in China.
        Marco Polo
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Spec
        Spec, you have provided some well reasoned points.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Spec
        EV is huge in China - but it's on two wheels, not four.
      Dan Frederiksen
      • 3 Years Ago
      2WM you fluctuate between the left and the right. this comment was disappointing. at one point I believe Aptera had 3000 preorders. that's more than Tesla had for the roadster and about twice as many as they have sold so far. I wouldn't design it like the Aptera but the premise was sound. it may never have been anyway but it failed for other reason. you should know that. you should also know never to disagree with me and certainly not mockingly, as you are sure to be wrong.
      Lola Rose
      • 3 Years Ago
      i love how this car has the same buttons and steering wheel as my 09 highlander
      Marco Polo
      • 3 Years Ago
      I am still trying to digest the importance of the development by Virent/Shell of a economical, renewable fuel, with zero emissions and the same benefits as gasoline. Should the Oil companies offer a non-pollutant, locally produced fuel for around $2.00 a gallon, it's hard to see how EV investment can be justified. The social implications of such a fuel would have great appeal. It's very difficult to see how EV could compete or even be justified as beneficial. Worrying!
        Marco Polo
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Marco Polo
        sorry, double post!
        Spec
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Marco Polo
        You have a link to this magic fuel? I quite skeptical of a $2/gallon magic fuel . . . if it existed it would be rushed to market or at least be all over the news.
        Chris M
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Marco Polo
        It's possible to make a renewable fuel, it may even be possible to make it economically competitive, but "zero emission"? Not if they're still using any form of internal combustion. At best, they might get lower emissions than gasoline. Fact is, even if they could produce and sell at $2 a gallon, electrics would still have lower "fuel" costs.
          EVSUPERHERO
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Chris M
          Yes, the electricity used to refine one gallon of this magic fuel may propel my EV 145 miles. If we do double to 2 billion cars world wide, their may be a ban on inefficient vehicles for personal transport.
          Marco Polo
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Chris M
          @Dave. I have a considerable investment in EV technology, as an industry. If a far more competitive technology is developed, I should be worried. @Spec. read the ABG article on the Virent fuel process. Magic fuel? Virent's investors (and collaborators) are Shell, Honda, and Cargill.The reputations of the scientists at Virent are beyond reproach. The fuel is technology is valid. The only question remains is, can Cargill deliver on the economic production of feedstock. This would have to be done on an industrial, not agricultural scale. Cargill is a notoriously secretive corporation, (being privately owned), however, their bankers let slip that a research model confirms Cargill's estimates. Until the feedstock issue is resolved, Virent's fuel development is merely a potentially threatening competitor to the EV industry. @Chris M. The Virent process produces a renewable bio-gasoline, with non-toxic, non pollutant emission capacity. It passes the Californian Clean Air Act, criteria and is DOE,EPA certified.' Zero-emissions' refers to it's AGW contribution. EV opponents, could argue that the new fuel is more environmentally friendly than EV's, due to the 'long tail pipe' example. Chris, the success of EV transport as a mass production industry, relies upon massive investment. That investment is provided by taxpayer-funded subsidies, loans and private capital investment. Joe Public's support is crucial for both. I think it's fair to say that if Virent/Shell/Honda/Cargill can really produce a fuel, which even if only in in the public mind, is environmentally friendly and relatively economical, this must have dire consequences for the EV industry. With a competitor selling at $2.00 (or even $4.00) a gallon, for a locally produced, environmentally friendly fuel, the mass market for EV's would evaporate. Government subsidies would evaporate. EV investment would evaporate. The rationale for EV's would have evaporated. An EV might have lower 'fuel' costs, but not sufficient to compensate for the $10-30,000 price difference. (And the disadvantages of range, charging, speed etc.) The fuel exists, and is now certified. It will be accepted. It utilises all the existing refinery to gas pump infrastructure, needs no modifications to existing ICE technology. It would be embraced by Governments, Industry, Conservatives and Centre-leftists, even environmentalists. This fuel can replace gasoline, diesel, aviation fuel, and more importantly, the most toxic of all oil products, bunker oil. Most importantly, investors. The only question remains, is the production of economic feedstock. On the one hand this would seem to be a gigantic logistical endeavour, on the other hand, the profits are enormous. Shell, Honda, and Cargill are nor strapped for cash! These corporations have vast access to technology, capital, political and logistical expertise. Have Virent/Shell/Honda/ Cargill found the holy grail? Only Cargill knows!
        Dave
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Marco Polo
        I don't get it. Why would you be worried that there might be something better than batteries?
      Andrew Richard Rose
      • 3 Years Ago
      I think you will find that Aptera was a very good idea torpedoed by the management that they were suckered in to taking on from Detroit !
      Spec
      • 3 Years Ago
      @Marco Polo I don't think Aptera ever got any government grants or loans.
      Spec
      • 3 Years Ago
      Indeed. Electric bicycles are huge there. Perhaps people feel they already own an EV so they want a gas car to complement the EV they already own!
      Dan Frederiksen
      • 3 Years Ago
      they might try light and aerodynamic.. sigh, why is the obvious so hard for everyone..
        Spiffster
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Dan Frederiksen
        Your obvious solution has limits DF, obvious ones I might add. You want a light weight, battery powered, aerodynamic car that doesnt cost an arm and a leg... not gonna happen anytime soon. In case you didnt know batteries are heavy and expensive, light weight construction is either unsafe or expensive, and with aerodynamics in consumer cars form has to give way to function and utility to a certain degree. Yes, reality sucks.
          Dan Frederiksen
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Spiffster
          Spiffster, my understanding of cost and engineering vastly exceeds yours. a light vehicle needs less batteries. see how that works.. both cost and weight wise. and there are oceans of similar points you failed to realize. if I say something it is generally because it is true.
          Marco Polo
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Spiffster
          Well, although he's never really built anything, nor has any automotive knowledge, well.. actually, he possesses no knowledge about any of the subjects on which he pontificates. A while ago, DF did provide an example of what he believed major auto manufacturers should be mass producing for the volume consumer market. Basically the design called for a very expensive frame constructed from exotic materials, with no safety equipment, no doors, no roof, no windows, no body panels, no suspension, bicycle type wheels with electric motors of no known design, battery pack and electronics housed in a manner which defied gravity. The vehicle would be impossible to ever register or insure, let alone operate. As you can see from his weird costings, he also has no commercial experience. He actually had the temerity to propose his ill-conceived fantasy as a 'lesson' to real engineers. Naturally, he became abusive when it was rejected. Unfortunately, if this was his only folly, like Gorr he would just be a harmless eccentric. DF, is in fact a misanthropic, anti-American, vindictive, malicious Troll, who delights in spreading poisonous libels. His arrogance and abuse knows no level of restraint or decency.
          Spiffster
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Spiffster
          @Marco Polo Yup, cant reason with the unreasonable, quite possibly insane, self proclaimed engineering genius that is DF.
        black08mustanggt
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Dan Frederiksen
        And to think, if you only lived in a free country with almost boundless physical and economic resources where you could start a business and build the obvious yourself and show us how it's done. Only if....
          Dan Frederiksen
          • 3 Years Ago
          @black08mustanggt
          you mean I can expect local venture capital to be as understanding as you.
          Spec
          • 3 Years Ago
          @black08mustanggt
          Well that is the point Dan. VCs look at your idea, run the numbers, and realize that the numbers don't work. You can't build an EV for as cheap as you think you can and there is not much of a market for small unsafe tandem EV.
        2 Wheeled Menace
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Dan Frederiksen
        You mean like the runaway success that is the Aptera?
      Marco Polo
      • 3 Years Ago
      Andrew, I think you will find that Aptera had to take on people who actually knew how to produce a car, to attract money to build anything. Aptera could never have been anything more than a hand built, very low volume, curiosity. Without government (taxpayer) grants it could never have been anything. The Aptera 'torpedoed' the Aptera.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Full disclosure: I'm a huge fan of EV's. However, at the same time, I'm a realist and a historian. If EV's are ever to become readily before I die, there will need to be a Disruptive Technology. For those of you not familiar with DT concept, the Cliff Notes version is as follows: look up the histories of Hydraulics & Computer Hard Drives, they started out so small and so cheap, no-one thought them a threat until they over-took the market. The same must happen with EV's. Make them cheap & small; so cheap & so small, the big corporations won't bother to crush them. Working class people (like me) who need basic, local transportation will have an alternative to satisfy their minimum needs at a price we/I/they can afford.
        Spec
        • 3 Years Ago
        Well, EVs may not require any disruptive technology succeed. It would certainly help but the opposite may happen . . . the existing technology solution may be disrupted. Between increased use of oil worldwide and reduced supply, the total operating cost of conventional cars may naturally rise above the total operating cost of EVs. At that point, EVs will begin selling even if they don't improve at all from the current state of technology. My prediction is that EVs will continue to improve incrementally (lighter materials, more efficient EV components, cheaper batteries, better batteries, etc.) while the price of oil will continue to rise. At some point, the advantages of EVs will become clear to consumers. But it will be a while before such a cross-over point happens.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Ask an emerging effluent family, what they'd do if they had one chance, one opportunity to register and own a "vehicle" and they'd want an european luxury car. Give the same question to an average household and they'd show how they already have at least one electric bicycle and in some cases even electric scooters all locally made in China. It's a date which will live in infamy that no other mean of transportation shall be considered as plug-in electric vehicle except a passenger car. No more zoom zoom in a 50-mile range ebike and above all else no more rail passes.
        skierpage
        • 3 Years Ago
        Stop labeling poor people as raw sewage! http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/effluent Perhaps you mean "emerging Affluent people" ;-) Your writing is consistently bad, your last paragraph is gibberish.
      Nick
      • 3 Years Ago
      BYD didn't try very hard. I assume they were losing money on the car, so they restricted sales.
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