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China Set to Corner Electric Car Market

by Anna Fahey


Getting out of the economic recession is one thing. Staying out is another. A key factor in sustained economic health may well be the ability to lead in new, clean technologies -- and the wherewithal to unshackle economies from the burdens of expensive and volatile fossil fuels in so doing. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that clean energy and efficiency will provide the economic engine to get us out of the recession and the stability to stay out.

With that in mind, here's another installment in my campaign against the "China Scapegoat Syndrome" when it comes to smart energy policy (you've heard the common refrain: "why should the US do anything about emissions if China and India keep burning coal and growing their populations? It's not fair!")

Well, I have little doubt that when China captures the market in clean energy technologies ahead of everybody else, the very same people might be saying the same thing: it's not fair! 

So we might take heed when we see that China is positioned to become a leading producer of clean vehicles.

Here's the story from the New York Times:

Chinese leaders have adopted a plan aimed at turning the country into one of the leading producers of hybrid and all-electric vehicles within three years, and making it the world leader in electric cars and buses after that.

The goal, which radiates from the very top of the Chinese government, suggests that Detroit’s Big Three, already struggling to stay alive, will face even stiffer foreign competition on the next field of automotive technology than they do today.

Another important lesson here is that this move toward efficient technology comes from the top. Innovation and new industry fueled by government policy in China.

They're making lemonade out of lemons -- and anticipating a global market for cleaner vehicles. They have never made a dent in the old gasoline auto industry, so they're just bypassing it -- at a moment when the old guard of gas vehicles is floundering.

At the same time, public policy is spurring a domestic industry that not only creates jobs and exports but also reduces the Chinese economy's dependence on volatile fossil fuels and the costs and hassles of importing them, building the country's long-term prosperity.

It's even more reason to put the "China excuse" on energy policy to bed forever.

This post originally appeared on The Sightline Institute's blog, The Daily Score

photo credit: Flickr/Urbangarden, Creative Commons License

related posts: More Cars or More Transportation Alternatives: What Will the World Choose?

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Even with current economic conditions. The Chinese are also building new coal plants on a weekly basis and clearing often unstable countries of their resources to satisfy Chinese demand.

Most of the battery technology these days is lithium ion technology, which is in very low supply internationally, with the largest concentration in Bolivia. Evo Morales has been pretty protective thus far, lets hope that western powers and other emerging economies don't try to destabliize his government to get access to those resource.. oh whoops too late.

All the snarkyness aside, I don't doubt the Chinese are going to wholeheartedly put finances and initiative into clean technology. They have some good venture funds in place already. But their current realities in fossil fuel demand are going to outpace this investment strategy.

The environmental burden of personal transport is not simply in lifetime fossil fuel consumption, which in China's case is probably going to be coal if we are talking about electric cars, but also the embodied energy and toxicity of vehicle production.

I don't at all want to exclude them from the opportunity to develop, but that is going to be significantly more cars than the Americans and the Europeans combined. They already have massive air quality problems to begin with.

Posted by: Stelios Theoharidis on 6 Apr 09

15 years ago the roads in China were dominated by bicycles. Today it is full of cars and pollution. During Olympic 2008, residents in Beijing reverted back to using bicycles to help bring down air pollution. The Chinese would not mind having a small green car, I believe. What they need is a company like Tata India to produce for them a low cost small car, with green technlogy.

Posted by: Ben on 7 Apr 09

>>China Set to Corner Electric Car Market

The US company Tesla Motors is already delivering their lithium-ion-powered BEV Tesla Roadster. The Roadster can travel 244 miles on a single charge of its lithium-ion battery pack, and can accelerate from 0–60 mph in 3.9 seconds. An improved, Sport version of the Roadster has been released with a 0–60 mph of 3.7 seconds. The Roadster's efficiency, as of September 2008, was reported as 120 mpg, and has an efficiency of 90% on average. Series production of the car began on 17 March 2008. By April 2, 2009, 320 Roadsters had been delivered. Tesla Motors, Inc. is a Silicon Valley automobile startup company.

Future plans include a more affordable third model. The development and production of this future model, code-named "BlueStar," will be funded by profits from the Model S sedan. According to Tesla, if everything goes according to plan, BlueStar will be released in 2012 and cost around $30,000

>>What they need is a company like Tata India to >>produce for them a low cost small car, with green >>technlogy.

Across the globe, major automakers including General Motors,BYD Auto, Hyundai, Toyota, and Tata Motors have been racing to be first to sell electric vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries.

Tata plans to produce the E-Nano, an electric version of the Tata Nano, in partnership with Miljøbil Grenland AS.

Tata Motors has already unveiled the electric versions of the passenger car Tata Indica (the Indica EV) and commercial vehicle Tata Ace. Both run on lithium batteries. The company has indicated that the electric Indica would be launched locally in India in about 2010, without disclosing the price. The vehicle would be launched in Norway in 2009, and also would go on sale in continental Europe and the UK. Tata Motors' UK subsidiary, Tata Motors European Technical Centre, has bought a 50.3% holding in electric vehicle technology firm Miljøbil Grenland/Innovasjon of Norway, which specialises in the development of innovative solutions for electric vehicles, and plans to launch the electric Indica hatchback in Europe next year. Electrovaya’s batteries are expected to go 120 miles on a single charge, using Electrovaya’s Lithium Ion SuperPolymer battery technology. Once charged, the car can travel up to 124 miles. To achieve this, TM4 (a subsidiary of Hydro-Québec) provides an efficient MФTIVETM series electric motor.

Electric-versions of Tata Ace are sold through Chrysler's Global Electric Motorcars division. Tata Ace, India's first indigenously developed sub-one ton mini-truck, was launched in May 2005. The mini-truck was a huge success in India with auto-analysts claiming that Ace had changed the dynamics of the light commercial vehicle (LCV) market in the country by creating a new market segment termed the small commercial vehicle (SCV) segment. Ace rapidly emerged as the first choice for transporters and single truck owners for city and rural transport.

>> Most of the battery technology these days is >>>lithium ion technology

Actually most of the electric vehicles in China are valve regulated lead-acid, of the Absorbent glass mat (AGM) battery type. Chinese cities are full of AGM-powered electric scooters/bikes that can hit between 20 and 50+ mph, with a range of between 30 (one battery) and 50+ miles (with secondary battery) between charges. Lithium Ion is usually a popular option only on the more powerful all-electric motorcycles due to the cost, but is more popular on the international market.

Besides being much more expensive, large Lithium-ion batteries present a lot more safety hazards for vehicles than AGM batteries. Lithium-ion batteries can rupture, ignite, or explode when exposed to high temperature environments, for example in an area that is prone to prolonged direct sunlight. A Short-circuiting of a Li-ion battery can also cause it to ignite or explode violently. During the past decade there have been numerous recalls of lithium-ion batteries in cellular phones and laptops owing to overheating problems, flash-fires, and explosion risks.

Posted by: Lee Watkins on 7 Apr 09

I should add that recently Tata motors got an order from the US Dept of post to manufacture all-electric Tata Ace post vans for them. These will complement the older Chevrolet/Grumman LLV (Long-Life Vehicle), and the the newer Ford/Utilimaster FFV (Flex-Fuel Vehicle), originally also referred to as the "CRV" (Carrier Route Vehicle). The USPS operates the largest civilian vehicle fleet in the world, with an estimated 260,000 vehicles. From January 2009 onwards, all-electric Tata Ace will be sold through Chrysler's Global Electric Motorcars division.

Global Electric Motorcars, abbreviated as GEM, is a manufacturer of neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) based in Fargo, North Dakota. GEM is a division of Chrysler, and a market leader of NEVs. Chrysler announced in September 2008 that GEM will be re-branded Green Eco-Mobility. The company was founded as in 1992 by a team of ex-General Motors engineers from Livonia, Michigan, under the name Trans2. The company was nearly bankrupt by 1997, when it was purchased by a group of North Dakota investors. GEM has 150 dealers, and has produced more than produced 30,000 vehicles.

The original GEM vehicles operated on a 48-volt system with four 12-volt batteries and a 3.5 hp (2.6 kW) drive motor. Later models introduced an option of a 72-volt system, which is now used in all current models.

The 2005 GEM NEV models feature a complete makeover including front disc brakes, rear drum brakes, new suspension and fully upgraded and sealed electronics. All of the vehicles use a separately excited motor and controller from General Electric. The vehicles have a 72-volt battery pack provided by six 12-volt flooded lead acid or (optional) gel batteries, which are a type of valve regulated lead-acid battery with a gelified electrolyte. The GEM Security Version is an LEV available with with enhanced electrical components for police and security work. GEM vehicles can already be found for example on the National Mall, college universities (ex. Duke University), park maintenance, and Tourist/Sight-Seeing locations such as Playa del Carmen, Mexico, various cities in Italy, etc.

Posted by: Lee Watkins on 7 Apr 09

In case you haven't noticed, the U.S. is screwed. I hope you own some real estate in a central city area. The suburbs are dead. It is still cheap to move to central Detroit if you don't yet.

Posted by: game changer on 7 Apr 09

"Innovation and new industry fueled by government policy..."

"At the same time, public policy is spurring a domestic industry that not only creates jobs and exports but also reduces the Chinese economy's dependence on volatile fossil fuels..."

The Chinese has got one thing right, if nothing else (which isn't to say that they're wrong across the board): it's all about government policy. With times like these, a country's economy is centrally important. Promoting trade and investment, creating new jobs, increasing energy self-sufficiency, etc. Sometimes, to make a significant change and an obvious shift, the head(s) of state needs to enact a policy to ignite a spark. Kudos to China on that front!

Posted by: Dudnie Michel on 7 Apr 09

DO NOT, ever, ever, believe the NY Times on ANYTHING related to CHINA. Those guys are the most pompous China-boosters on the planet.. who would gladly betray America to facilitate a Chinese take-over.
Instead look at the facts. While CHINA boasts endlessly of their BYD electric car (yes the same BYD that fails crash tests like tin cans on YOutube), India's Tata will this September be selling the e-Indica in the advanced nation of NORWAY.

Posted by: rob on 28 May 09

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