Week in Review
Well, it appears the Chinese can do something wrong. Guess that’s what they get for trying to follow American policy (see Not yet posted 5/5/2012 on The Economist).
THE main road at the headquarters of BYD, a Chinese car and battery firm in Shenzhen, seems to go on for ever. It winds from gleaming offices past enormous factories and dormitories to a renewable-energy plant and test track. Visitors can take the E6, the firm’s new electric car, for a drive—but try to accelerate and the engineers get nervous. Like the firm, the car is sluggish…
Three years ago, the Chinese government unveiled policies to propel sales of all-electric vehicles (ie, ones that can’t use petrol at all) to 500,000 by 2015 and 5m by 2020. But barely 8,000 electric cars were sold last year, almost all going to government fleets.
The chief snags are cost and convenience. Despite lavish subsidies—in Shenzhen, consumers were offered 120,000 yuan per vehicle—electric cars still cost more than the petrol-powered sort. The lack of recharging stations also hurts. Hardly 16,000 were installed last year, a tenth of the official target.
So the Chinese sold barely 8,000 electric cars last year. So to meet their target of selling 500,000 units by 2015 all they have to do is to increase sales by, let’s see… You divide the difference of 500,000 and 8,000 by 8,000… Multiply that by 100… Which comes to…let’s see…6,150%. Wow. Even for the Chinese and their explosive economic growth that will be a tough number to reach. And by tough I mean, of course, impossible.
So it’s not just the Americans. The Chinese don’t want these all-electric cars either. Probably because like the Americans they don’t want to sweat bullets wondering whether they have enough charge to make it home. Deciding whether to see by turning on the headlights or keeping the lights off to save charge. Deciding whether to stay warm by using the heat or to shiver with the heat off to save charge. Or simply saying, “The hell with this. I’m buying a gas-powered car and not worrying about getting home. I’m going to see where I’m going. And I’m going to stay toasty warm while getting there. If I run low on gas so what? I’ll just pull into a gas station and top off my tank. And get back on my drive home in 5 minutes or so.” That’s why no one is buying these all-electric cars. Because a gas-power car won’t give you ulcers worrying whether or not you will make it home before the charge runs out.
The all-electric car is purely a government phenomenon. It can only exist with excessive government subsidies. And only in government fleets where the commute is short. And they will have a gas-powered bus to pick up people stranded when their car runs out of charge. And a gas-powered tow truck to bring the all-electric car back to the garage for 8 hours or so of recharging.