Plugging Away: Chinese Government: EVs Good. Chinese Communist Party: EVs A Dog. U.S. Energy Secretary: EVs Need Miracle

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt
plugging away chinese government evs good chinese communist party evs a dog u s

Lately, we’ve often been blamed to be “against electric cars.” We aren’t against electric cars. We are The Truth About Cars. We are against hype and we are for facts.

These days, Google will deliver you your “facts” any which way you want them. Let’s have a look at two particular gems. They are from the world’s largest auto market, from the market that will dethrone the U.S.A. this year as the country with the most car sales in any given year. They are from the country that has problems with pollution, and if pundits are right, will choke on oil imports. You guessed it: China. How are electric cars doing in China? Take Google, and take your pick. Depending on what you click on, EVs will either take off like gangbusters real soon now. Or they are the proverbial epic fail already.

Proponents of electric cars will scoop up the news disseminated by the Chinese state news agency Xinhua. Titled “New-energy vehicles take off in China with gov’t support,” the piece sings the praise of EVs, of generous government subsidies, of customers who buy an EV for only $12,000 after a $10,000 subsidy.

A Wu Lingyu, supposedly “a 36-year-old white-collar worker in the east China city of Hefei,” is cited. She reportedly abandoned her plans for a conventional powered vehicle, and will buy an EV instead. She rattles off the reasons:

“That is because I can get a 60,000 yuan subsidy from the central government and 10,000 yuan from the local government.”

“And, if I am one of the first 500 buyers of battery-operated cars in Hefei, the local electricity authorities will also install a charging facility near my home for free.”

“A petrol-driven car consumes about 10 liters of oil for every 100 km and that costs about 60 yuan. A battery-operated car consumes about 14 kwh of electricity for every 100 km and that costs only about eight yuan.”

“If I drive a long way, I can install a range-extender on the car, which can charge the battery while I am driving.”


The story is long in plans (“The government will help create one or two automakers that can each produce more than 1 million new-energy cars per year by 2020. It will also help establish three to five automakers which can each produce more than 500,000 new-energy cars per year.”) And the story is short on results (“there is no accurate figure for the present number of new-energy cars in China.”) But as the story goes, the only thing that keeps Chinese from wholesale adoption of BEVs and PHEVs is “the limited number of charging stations.”

So far, so good. This story will be widely quoted, even by greenies, or power plant operators who usually don’t share the leanings of the Chinese government. The same people will conveniently overlook another story.

A week ago, there was a story titled “New energy vehicle sales in China disappoint automakers.” This story ran in Global Times, the English writing offshoot of People’s Daily, the voice of the Chinese Communist Party. Oddly enough, this paper is the better read, it is often critical, and doesn’t shy away from lurid topics. This one is even better. NSFW, Made in China. Let’s not get sidetracked. Back to EVs. Global Times says EVs are an unmitigated bust in China: “The development of new energy vehicles in China has been highly anticipated, but automakers are disappointed with the sales figures of green cars, after having spent millions of dollars in this field.”

Global Times has what Xinhua could not find: Accurate sales numbers. They are a disaster.

  • Changan “didn’t sell any” of its hybrid Jiexun HEV.
  • “BYD said hat it has only sold 54 electric vehicles E6 and 290 F3DM hybrids between January and October.”
  • “The sales volume of Toyota’s Prius in China has been below 4,000 units for the past three years.”
  • “Research company Dratio said that 89 percent of consumers are not interested in purchasing new energy vehicles due to their high price and the lack of supporting facilities.”
  • “A sales manager of a 4S store of Dongfeng Honda said that consumers are not buying new energy vehicles because they don’t trust the new technology and they don’t want to pay extra in order to save petrol.”

So now we are in a quandary. Should we trust the Chinese government that runs Xinhua? Should we trust the CCP that owns Global Times? Heck, why don’t we simply trust our own most prominent Chinese?

Nobel Prize-winning U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said at the sidelines of the climate talks in Cancun this weekend that “car battery companies have to develop units that last 15 years, improve energy storage capacity by a factor of five to seven, and cut costs by about a factor of three in order to be make electric cars comparable to cars that run on gasoline and diesel,” reports Reuters.

That’s a tall order that may test the envelope of physics and economics. Even if our intrepid scientist pull off the impossible, “it is not certain that there will be ample materials to build the batteries to support a massive move to such cars.”

Ooops again.

TTAC is not against EVs. TTAC remains a healthy skeptic when it comes to any boondoggle. Blind jumping on bandwagons can cause injuries, or even death. If the Chinese government can’t agree with the Chinese Communist Party on a topic, and when the U.S. Energy Secretary leans in the direction of the CCP, then we better step back and don’t take any sides. As far as the subject matter goes, we will continue to keep you informed and entertained.

Join the conversation
7 of 31 comments
  • John Fritz John Fritz on Dec 12, 2010

    We can debate the success or failure of electric cars ad infinitum and still not reach a clear conclusion. There is one undeniable fact, however. And that is without governments subsidizing the production, sales and operation of present day EV's, they are not suitable as replacements for our current ICE cars.

    • Psarhjinian Psarhjinian on Dec 13, 2010

      That logic applies to many things, including oil. Heck, it applied to the nascent Internet.

  • Buickman Buickman on Dec 12, 2010

    with their traffic jams the darn things would die all over the roads. what a nightmare!

    • See 3 previous
    • LimpWristedLiberal LimpWristedLiberal on Dec 13, 2010

      @slance66 Yeah that is kind of a bummer. Heater anxiety. I look forward to small businesses offering fossil-fuel powered heater retrofits. Convert your plug-in to a hybrid! They could do something like replace the electric heater element with a flameless burner and fuel the whole thing with a little Coleman lantern propane bottle under the hood.

  • ToolGuy Seems pretty reasonable to me. (Sorry)
  • Luke42 When I moved from Virginia to Illinois, the lack of vehicle safety inspections was a big deal to me. I thought it would be a big change.However, nobody drives around in an unsafe car when they have the money to get their car fixed and driving safely.Also, Virginia's inspection regimine only meant that a car was safe to drive one day a year.Having lived with and without automotive safety inspections, my confusion is that they don't really matter that much.What does matter is preventing poverty in your state, and Illinois' generally pro-union political climate does more for automotive safety (by ensuring fair wages for tradespeople) than ticketing poor people for not having enough money to maintain their cars.
  • ToolGuy When you are pulled over for speeding, whether you are given a ticket or not should depend on how attractive you are.Source: My sister 😉
  • Kcflyer What Toyota needs is a true full size body on frame suv to compete with the Expedition and Suburban and their badge engineered brethren. The new sequoia and LX are too compromised in capacity by their off road capabilities that most buyers will never use.
  • ToolGuy Rock crushes scissors, scissors cut paper, paper covers rock, and drywall dents sheet metal.