Could Electric Cars Take Off in China?

Blog post by April Fang

The transformation of China from a bicycle kingdom to a land of automobiles only took 20 years. When I was a child, most of the kids in my neighborhood would bike with their parents to school, even in the cold winters and scorching summers. Biking was an affordable transportation method for families, and it seemed like the practical choice when no one else was driving. Then people started to buy electric bicycles to travel greater distances at faster speeds.

This 1997 photo captures a time when bicycles were the standard mode of transit in China. (Ninnet, Flickr)

In the late 1990s, more and more middle-class people started driving and owning cars. Some want the status symbol of a luxury car, even if greener alternatives are available. As the economy grows rapidly in China, environmental destruction, including air pollution, also grows. People give up the most sustainable forms of transportation (bicycling and walking) for the luxury of traveling with their own vehicles.

Traffic in Shanghai ten years after the previous photo was taken. (Meng Tian, Flickr)

Electric and hybrid cars may help reduce China’s greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption as the economy grows.

The electric and hybrid cars have a high market potential in China. In 2011, the total amount of vehicles reached 219 million, which include approximately 80 million privately-owned cars. The country’s auto markets developed rapidly and the private purchases of vehicles went by about 77% between 2001, when China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO), and 2006.

However, hybrid cars are not popular in the Chinese market. People in China are not buying environmentally friendly cars because most of the hybrid and electric cars are more expensive than gasoline-powered vehicles. The consumer could use the same amount of money to purchase a luxury car. Toyota’s annual target is to sell 430,000 hybrid vehicles in the Chinese market, but it only sold 5,000 over the last three years.

It is a growing concern that China would face peak oil crisis in the future due to massive depletion of natural resources in industry and transportation.

With such a challenge ahead, the Chinese government should do its part to promote greener cars. If you live in Quebec and Prince Edward Island in Canada, the provincial government offers a tax rebate when you purchase a hybrid car. The Chinese government could offer a similar incentive to encourage citizens to purchase hybrid and electrical cars. Renewable energies could also be used in reducing environmental pollution, such as using solar panels to charge electric cars. As a result, people can reduce the amount of carbon emissions they generate while still keeping the option of driving.

Despite the fact that electric and hybrid cars are not in high demand in China right now, I believe that ultimately Chinese consumers– and people from all over the world– will consider a greener way of traveling as the issue of global warming becomes more and more urgent.

© 2012 SCGH, LLC.

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