Carmakers Show Futuristic Green Vision in Beijing

Beijing Auto Show

Beijing Auto Show

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 Vision

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.
  • Better Place - Chery battery swapping demo

    A demonstration of electric car battery swapping from Better Place, which announced a memorandum of understanding with China’s Chery Automobile Co.

  • 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.

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  • lala

    we need the electric cars and plug-in hybrid here….. or just bring more hybrid model to US. Gas price is keep going up, salary is going down.

  • reality

    I am tired of hearing about concept cars and future models that never materialize. Seems like the bankrupt industries are dragging their feet, producing only dreams while scamming for more public aid. The big car manufacturers have deals with many startups, and now have pushed back plug-in production dates to 2012>and beyond. We should have let the parasites die last year. That would have flushed the system of all the dead wood. They are the problem and cannot provide any solutions.
    Give each of the worthy start-ups a $billion loan with stipulations that they not collude with the big3+ to defraud us of any more of our tax dollars.

  • JamesDavis

    I agree with you. The electric millage keeps going down, the price keeps going up, the batteries keeps getting worse, everything keeps moving to China, and the big three have no idea in how to fix the problem. The liquid salt battery can hold a mega watt charge and can take you hundreds of miles between charge and yet none of the big three knows about it.

    The big three can make the frame and body of the cars out of carbon fiber, like Telsa Motors does and triple the electric millage. Shut the big three down and let these better electric auto makers take over.

  • Yegor

    Chevrolet MPV5 looks great. Station Wagon is the best body style for a Hybrid or Electric because it provides the biggest interior room per weight ratio. I think that MPV5 is also 5 seats instead of Volts 4 seats. Great car!

  • DC

    People need to realize that cost effective, mass-produced vehicles have been possible for decades. The auto-oil cartel however has no interest in produceing them in the abscence of strong mandates. Thats why all we hear about are things the hydrogen hoax(million dollar PEM FC, but dont worry, they wont ready for decades-well never actually), thats why Li-on batteries need endless “testing” and more “research” before they are “ready”(but dont worry, some day in the far distant future. EVs will be able to travel 10 miles or so with continued assistance of gas-o-line of course.) Or how about the “flex-fuel” disaster-in-the-makeing? or so called Bio-fuels? Its revealing how the American big 3 have gotten behind EVERY non-solution that could possibly exist, yet keep telling everyione that will listen that EV’s wont work, too expensive, were in a recession, not ready yet etc etc etc. Mass-market EV’s have been “just around the corner” for years now. In 2008, they were supposed to be ready in 2009 or 2010. In 2010, they will be ready about ooooo 2012, or maybe 2013. Get the idea?

    For all of the North American auto industries ceaseless(and effective) efforts to keep the world safe for filthy gas powerd cars, can we really rely on the chinese to come to the rescue so to speak? China may not have had Exxon-Mobil, GM , Shell etc basically pulling the goverments strings, but they seem to have adapted more or less wholesale, the same model we have. Gas powered mobile trash bins have allready made chinese cities the dirtiest on the planet, and they dont seem to be slowing down, or even seem to grasp that creating a carfossil fuel dependant economy can only end badly. Whenever you see chinese cities on TV, all you see are endless streams of, well, gas powered trash bins, not EVs, or even there worthless red headed step child, the gas-hybrid. For a country that can essentially mandate anything they care to, all they seem to have done is welcome western and Japanese companies to set up shop and push their dirty car-dependant paradigm on the country and no one there seemed to mind.

    N.A. car companies have been playing this game for decades, show off non-working concept cars that never reach production, some of which, on rare occasions, show great promise. Is its Chinas turn now, show off interesting looking concept cars year over year, that somehow, never seem to make it to production?