The Chinese auto market is booming. This year’s Beijing Auto Show, which opened over the weekend, features nearly 100 cars powered by electricity or some other alternative to petroleum. The list of hybrids and electric cars on display looks like a grand vision of what China’s roadways could look like in the next few years—but the timing is uncertain. Almost all of the advanced fuel-efficient vehicles on display are still in the concept and testing stages.
The challenges facing a green car future in China are illustrated by sales numbers for the F3 sedan from BYD, China’s fourth largest car company. BYD sells the conventional F3, the country’s best-selling model, which is priced at about US $9,000, according to Bloomberg. The company also sells the world’s first mass-market plug-in hybrid, the F3DM (or F3 Dual Mode), which goes for about US $22,000. Considering the price discrepancy, it’s not surprising that BYD sold fewer than 100 units of the F3DM, and almost 300,000 of the gas-powered F3.
Yet, the green car revolution is just starting in China, as it ramps from nearly no gas-alternatives today—to making hybrid and electric cars 15 percent of its market, according to the goal of the country’s Ministry of Industry and Technology. Government subsidies for low-emissions vehicles are still in the works.
The long parade of green cars in Beijing provides a vision of what could and should happen:
- Mitsubishi Motors, which rolled out the all-electric i-MiEV in Japan last year, plans to introduce its small electric car to China by 2012. The company wanted to bring the i-MiEV to China this year, but Mitsubishi President Osamu Masuko said, “We don’t have enough capacity to produce the batteries.”
- BYD plans to launch its all-electric car, the $40,000 e6, in Shenzhen this year by supplying e6 taxis in the southern Chinese city, said an executive of the Chinese battery and carmaker. Daimler Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche threw the timing into question, when he said his company’s partnership with BYD would produce an all-electric taxi by in 2013—not this year.
- SAIC Motor, China’s largest automaker, is displaying its all-electric three-door four-seat E1 concept at the Beijing Auto show. It plans to roll out its first self-developed hybrid car this year, followed by a plug-in hybrid car in 2012.
- General Motors unveiled the Chevy Volt MPV5, a stockier version of the Chevy Volt that uses essentially the same plug-in series hybrid powertrain—although the bigger size means a reduction of all-electric range to about 32 miles. Doug Parks, chief engineer for electric vehicles, said the MPV5 “demonstrates the flexibility” of the Volt’s propulsion system—but Alan Taub, GM’s head of global research and development, recently told AutoCar that the system would be too big for cars smaller than the Volt. GM also showed the Cadillac Converj, which has been officially canceled, and the Cadillac XTS Platinum plug-in two-mode hybrid concept in Beijing.
- FAW Group, China’s second-largest automaker, is working with Toyota and Volkswagen to launch hybrid and pure electric cars on a “small scale” by October of this year, and than expand manufacturing in 2012.
- Meanwhile, Nikkei is reporting that Toyota “wants to begin trials” of its Prius Plug-in Hybrid in China. The vehicle made its debut at the Beijing show, where Toyota is also showing the FT-CH compact hybrid and the FT-EV II electric concept.
- Honda plans to launch its two dedicated hybrid vehicles, the Insight and CR-Z, in China in 2012, President Takanobu Ito said. It also plans to sell Acura hybrids in China within three years. The company sold about 200 Honda Civic Hybrids in China last year.
- BMW will launch its Megacity electric vehicle in 2013, said Norbert Reithofer, BMW Chairman of the Board. The company has been gathering insights into the day-to-day use of electric vehicles since mid-2009, and will expand the evaluation to China this year, when 50 Mini E cars are delivered to Chinese customers this year, and a number of BMW Concept ActiveE vehicles next year.
- Better Place, the charging infrastructure company, announced that it signed a memorandum of understanding with Chinese car maker Chery to collaborate on electric vehicle technology. The details were sketchy, but apparently Chery and Better Place will co-develop electric vehicle prototypes with switchable-batteries and will “seek to work” with the Chinese government on pilot projects to test the technology.