By on December 12, 2010

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.

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31 Comments on “Plugging Away: Chinese Government: EVs Good. Chinese Communist Party: EVs A Dog. U.S. Energy Secretary: EVs Need Miracle...”

  • avatar

    I don’t know ‘who’s plugging what’, but too bad this isn’t a CC!  Else I would be the winner by telling you that this gas flap belongs to a Smart ForTwo 1st-gen (A450) EV.

  • avatar

    Any person who understands basic physics, knows that both electric vehicles, and hydrogen vehicles are decades away from being practicle, if indeed they EVER are. It is indeed frustrating to see governments throw tax payer money down a rat hole, supporting subsidies on the purchase of these things.
    Thanks TTAC for continuing to support the truth about this.

    • 0 avatar

      Speaking as someone who really does understand basic physics, I feel obliged to point out that your “decades away” prediction is useless. It will happen if and when it happens, which could be right now or could be never. Furthermore, using tax revenue to fund new technology is pretty much how we got here (here as in “online”).

    • 0 avatar

      It’s not just physics, it’s economics.  Electricity has the potential to be an energy vector that’s easier to control and less sensitive to price shocks.  Oil et al are comparatively volatile, and quite a bit of money is thrown down that petrochemical “rat-hole” to ensure secure supply.
      Imagine what oil would cost if the US was restricted to buying only “secure” oil (which, at this point, means expensive-to-extract Albertan tar-sands extract).

  • avatar

    I hadn’t known the Communist Party and the government were any different.

  • avatar

    Thanks TTAC.  This is why we read you.

  • avatar

    A lovely combo – self serving and snarky.  And here’s to you Tiny Tim…
    It is as though you woke up yesterday to find the world as it is.  Let us ignore the huge oil subsidies in terms of tax policy, guns and blood.  Let us ignore that the trillions spent to protect oil supplies has bankrupted our country (I’m referring to the US Bertel).  Let us ignore that the funding for this comes not from those who profit from it but from debt mainly owned by China to be paid off by the lower crust – not the upper crust.
    Let us also forget the government subsidies that gave us – polio vaccine, highways, cheap meat. the internet (so you can write this “stuff”) etc etc.
    Let’s just pretend – like these articles do –  nothing in history ever happened . I would say to the many Schmidts of the world that you’d better hope you’re wrong because if China and India  ( We are a country of 365 million – they are between 2.5 and 3 billiion ( a billion is 1000 million). ) go after oil as aggressively as we do – it will not be pretty,  not pretty at all.
    I think you’re wrong.  I’d bet on it.

    • 0 avatar

      Probert, eventually the markets will dictate on what will or won’t be. By the time, China and the rest of the developing world reach the rate of car ownership of Europe or the US,  petroleum will be a very expensive commodity.

    • 0 avatar

      Probert, did we read the same article?  You seem to be making a point about ChiMerica (coined recently).  Maybe your point is that the whole EV thing is a joke and China will be leaning on oil for some time?  Either way you seem to be making a judgement that the author is right or wrong but I didn’t get the feeling from the article that he had a conclusion, “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.”  The author presented three different views on the subject, none of them was TTACs view.  Maybe the use of the ‘word’ “ooops” a few times in the article gave you that impression?  I think the article would have been much better without those faux conversational elements, but I think maybe you are reading way too much between the lines?

    • 0 avatar

      Well said, probert.Obviously TTAC is a huge astroturfing site for the rightie-tighties to promote their hallucinations of invisible hands. The cars thing is just something they do on the side, when they’re not shooting wolves from helicopters or parrotting their celebrated junkie hero, Rush Limbaugh. Too bad. It’s pretty cool when it’s just about the cars, but these guys are obviously making a lot more money astroturfing.

  • avatar

    I have difficulty envisioning a 100% EV replacing the average ICE vehicle.  A better alternative is a plug-in hybrid for folks with a short commute and a power receptacle near their parking space.
    The 100% EV already has a place for institutions like universities, airports and large government complexes like military bases.  Here most service vehicles never stray too far from home.  Rather than a sleek car – small, neighborhood-based, service trucks would do well, if electrified. 

    Definitely not a great leap forward, but rather an incremental step in direction where it makes sense.

    • 0 avatar

      The “standard candle” which defines the unit of light, the candlepower, is made from sperm whales.  After Peak Whale, spermaceti was replaced 100% by the vastly inferior petroleum derived paraffin regardless how difficult this may have been to imagine at the time.  Probert is right, time does not stand still.  I think internal combustion will go the way of vacuum tubes in stereo amplifiers.  Enthusiasts will spend whatever it takes to keep their favorite technology alive, but the technical and manufacturing knowledge will slowly be lost, and one day it will be impossible to make an engine as well as was done in the past.

  • avatar

    Thanks TTAC and Schmidt for this article.  Even though this is TTACars and not the TTAChina, I still learned some valuable information here.  I didn’t realize Global Times was CCP supported and that it was a different group than the Chinese State supported Xinhua.  Somehow in my mind they were one in the same, the State and the CCP.
    Most poignant of all was the statement from Mr. Chu 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”.
    Actually this is not a surprise to me, my gut feel for EV was that it was still too immature.  Which is why more serious and successful mainstream ‘green’ cars have all been Hybrids.  No alternate fuel is mature enough to enable mainstream consumers in any country to abandon oil based fuel… yet.

  • avatar

    China has nothing like America’s electrical grid. Huge numbers of EVs in China can’t happen until they build the grid to charge them. Americans can and are beginning to adopt EVs as second cars for commuting, which is most of our driving.

    But don’t call EVs matching gasoline a miracle, Chu never said that, and you quoted him out of context. (But thanks for including the link.) Here is the lead of the story: “Cars that run on batteries will begin to be competitive with ones that burn petroleum fuels in about five years, the U.S. energy secretary said at the annual U.N. climate talks. “It’s not like it’s 10 years off,” Secretary Steven Chu said at a press conference on U.S. clean energy efforts on the sidelines of the climate talks. “It’s about five years and it could be sooner. Meanwhile, the batteries we do have today are soon going to get better by a factor of two,” said Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist.”
    Gasoline is hard to beat. Especially since we don’t count its real cost. “According to the National Defense Council Foundation, the economic penalties of America’s oil dependence total $297.2 to $304.9 billion annually. If reflected at the gasoline pump, these “hidden costs” would raise the price of a gallon of gasoline to over $5.28. A fill-up would be over $105.” (

    Just the facts.

  • avatar
    George B

    Bertel, do many Chinese consumers have a dedicated parking place where a charger could be installed?

  • avatar

    The bratty little weaklings who never studied physics because it was just too difficult for their fragile little minds (Greenies) will never understand the physical reality of Thermodynamics. They will continue to vote for political terrorists to steal money from the intelligent and productive people to fund their retarded ideas on energy. All people will suffer dimminished lives because these idiot public school psychopaths are the voting majority.

    • 0 avatar

      Would you please get a clue. Dr. Chu has a Nobel Prize in physics. I have two electrical engineering degrees from MIT and teach electric vehicle engineering at my state university.

      Why are you so freaked out? Don’t you know about electric torque? Don’t you see the facts of the Tesla, Audi E-Tron and all the other electric supercars? Check out the White Zombie for one example. If you’d like to call John Wayland a “bratty little weakling” you’ll have to come down to Portland Int’l Raceway to find him.

    • 0 avatar
      Telegraph Road

      +1 MikePDX

    • 0 avatar
      Telegraph Road

      Hillarious AaronH, simply hillarious (from the perspective of this mathematician–educated in private universities, as if that matters).  You truly need a show on FoxNews–they would welcome you. Or perhaps Sen. Inhofe is want of a successor.

  • avatar

    Steven Chu might as well have said “car battery companies have to develop units that spontaneously combust in order to make electric 458 Italias comparable to 458 Italias that run on gasoline.”  What would the petro crybabies say if the Chevy Volt had a radiothermal generator that lasted for 10 years?

    Yes, I know that dude’s phone burnt through his pant leg, that’s not the point.

    • 0 avatar

      What would the petro crybabies say if the Chevy Volt had a radiothermal generator that lasted for 10 years?

      My guess is something along the lines of “That’s great.  I still don’t want one.”

  • avatar

    Bertel is spot on regarding todays China market.   This is the result of consumer value economics and the fact that the first HEV-EV’s to roll off a Chinese assembly line were from low end auto manufacturers.   These companies have difficuties with premium pricing.      Also “status” is stronger than “green”, at least today.

    That will change everything in the EV market, probably starting in 2012.
    Look how the government put together the Olympics and rolled out infrastructure projects.  Just last week we seen new high speed rail records.  They want to WOW the world, and they will!  

    Beijing has announced in their 5 year plan to install 36,000 EV charging stations into the city.    
    They are just waiting for the Chinese automakers to get everything in place.  Then you will see the fastest roll-out of an EV infrastructure project in the world.    Then the other coastal cities to follow. 
    EV will then be viable and can sell on their own.    Automakers will invest more in China to chase this market. 

    So my prediction for China satrting in 2012:
    * Death to the HEV that can’t run 60+km on electric power first. (Volt & Ampera sitting pretty)
    * Explosive growth in the low cost EV market. (China automakers a fit here)
    * High end EV & HEV will take over in the status department. (Leadership starts with the Leaf and gives up the crown to German automakers)

  • avatar
    John Fritz

    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.

  • avatar

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

    • 0 avatar
      healthy skeptic

      In stop-and-go conditions, EVs fare pretty well, actually. Especially at stop, where they just sit there, with the motor drawing zero power.
      ICE’s? Not so much.

    • 0 avatar

      @healthyskeptic:  During a traffic jam the EV would still consume significant power for passenger compartment heating/cooling,  lighting at night, windshield defrosting plus modest amounts for sound system etc.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve yet to see an explanation of how EVs can really work, in winter, in cold climates.  I understand commuting in Arizona…hell, put solar panels on the roof to charge it while you are at work.  But heat, defrosters etc. in the northern winter?  I don’t see it.  Winter is the one time all the lost heat energy from ICEs is captured and used properly.

    • 0 avatar

      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.

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