FILE PHOTO: A migrant worker steps out of his accommodation in an area next to a coal power plant in Beijing during a smog-free and also the last day of the city’s first “red alert” for air pollution, December 10, 2015. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/File Photo

Electric vehicles find an unlikely champion in China

IN RECENT years, China has become an unexpected champion of renewable energies, and the country’s determination to break their reliance on fossil fuels has pushed China to a leading position in the global electric vehicle (EV) revolution.

Dwindling fossil fuel resources, chronic air pollution and growing recognition that climate change is having a detrimental impact on human life, have convinced Beijing to introduce an array of far-reaching policies to support the adoption of electric vehicles across China. Beijing’s renewable energy policies have been supported by vast financial investment in the EV industry, and a vision of dominating next-generation technologies.

These initiatives have made China the world’s biggest supporter of electric cars, and the most powerful political force driving the EV revolution.

Alongside government support, the popularity of electric cars in China has been aided by the country’s existing infrastructure. China’s dense, crowded cities mean drivers require vehicles for shorter distances that in more sparsely populated cities, like in the US. Furthermore, China’s extensive high-speed rail network eliminates the need for most car owners to drive long distances between cities.

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives for the opening of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China October 18, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

China’s transportation infrastructure and the central government’s promotion of EVs has made electric cars extremely popular, and experts are predicting that all cars in China will be electric by 2030.

A report from 2016 indicates that China already has a clear lead in the adoption of electric vehicles. Last year, 507,000 EVs and hybrid EVs were sold in China, (a 53 percent increase from 2015) compared with Europe where 222,200 EVs and hybrid EVs (14 percent increase) and the US, where 157,130 EVs and hybrid EVs were sold (36 percent increase).

General Motors already sells more vehicles in China than they do in America, and America’s leading electric car brand, Tesla, sells more cars to China than any other market outside the US. Tesla has now confirmed it will establish a manufacturing facility in Shanghai.

With Beijing issuing regulations which require auto manufacturers to sell more alternative-energy vehicles and rumours that the Chinese government will soon ban the production of fossil fuel vehicles, automakers worldwide are speeding up their efforts to develop competitive electric cars.

China’s influence on the automobile industry is massive, and the policies coming out of Beijing are forcing manufacturers in Germany, Japan and the US to bring forward their schedules for the development of electric vehicles. Auto manufactures which delay their transition to electric powered vehicles may lose out on what is set to be the most significant developments in personal transportation since the 1950s.

As Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst for Autotrader, explains, “Any automaker that is a global automaker has to be focused on China, the world’s biggest market now and likely into the future… China is too big to ignore.”

FILE PHOTO: Chairman of the Board, CEO and co-founder of Future Mobility, Carsten Breitfeld, speaks in front of a screen showing an image of a new Byton car at a press conference in Shanghai, China September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

General Motors and Ford recently announcing their plan to include 33 electric models in their new lineups. Volvo has announced it will stop making vehicles powered by internal combustion engines by 2019, and will introduce five brand new electric vehicles by 2021.

Honda, which had previously been focusing on the development of hydrogen and hybrid cars, has modified its plans in the wake of China’s pro-EV policies and now plans to launch two brand new EVs, specifically for the Chinese market, in 2018. Toyota is aiming to surpass Tesla’s EV expertise with the development of brand new models which will use all-solid-state batteries, allowing ultra fast recharging.

While China has been enticing global manufacturers like Volkswagen, General Motors and Tesla to establish research and production facilities in China, the country’s leaders are also keen to ensure Chinese manufacturers remain competitive and innovative. Currently the best selling EVs in China are all locally produced, with Kandi Technologies, BYD, Chery and Zoelte dominating the Chinese market.

China has also been resolute to tackle the largest obstacle in the transition from gasoline to electricity – battery charging facilities. According to China’s 13th Five-Year Plan, the country aims to build enough charging facilities to cater for five million electric vehicles by 2020. In 2016, 100,000 public charging points were established nationwide, bringing the total up to 150,000 points across the country.

tesla showroom

The Tesla showroom at the Washington Square Mall, in Portland. Source: AP

According to the National Energy Administration, they are on target to increase this to 250,000 public charging point by the end of 2017. In China’s biggest cities, the target is for public charging facilities to never be further away than 5km. Beijing and Shanghai have already reached these goals.

In contrast to China’s accelerated transition from the combustion engine to electric powered transportation, much of Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, is ill prepared for this transportation revolution, lacking the necessary infrastructure to provide easily accessible public charging facilities.

Regional leaders hoping to remove deadly polluting vehicles from their cities’ street, would be advised to follow China’s lead, invest in EV charging infrastructure and embrace the inevitable death of the combustion engine.

This article was originally published on our sister site, Asian Correspondent.