In a country where 5.2 million cars were bought last year, where nearly 10 million cars are produced each year, and where "environmental protection" is a major buzz word, you might think that the Chinese have been ramping up their cheap, domestic-made hybrid cars. Nope. The only hybrids currently available are Japanese, the Toyota Prius and the Honda Civic. And while they're assembled in China, importing the parts from Japan means heavy taxes, which means that these cars costs double in China than what they do in the US. That's why only 417 Priuses were sold in China last year.
Then, at the Beijing auto show last week, GM got lots of press for announcing it would sell its new hybrid in China. But the cost won't be much better than the Prius, around $40,000. For a country where the average car costs less than a quarter of that, where demand is growing for big cars, and where fuel prices are kept artificially low by the government, the future of green cars seems dim.
But enter the Chinese automakers. Yes, big cars are in but so are small and green models, and they have a few that, while still largely concepts, are affordable -- and could be invading overseas markets in the next few years.As GM was stirring up green buzz for the June release of their Hybrid LaCrosse, domestic companies were showing off their own offerings, with prices starting around $10,000. By 2010, some 30 different hybrid models will be available in China. Good news for China, and because of economies of scale, and Chinese exports, everybody.
Chery: A3 Hybrid
The first much-touted Chinese-made hybrid will come in regular and diesel flavor, with a 1.8l engine. The A3 will reportedly carry a dealer's price from 70,000 yuan ($9,997) to 110,000 yuan.
The E6 by battery-maker BYD -- recently covered here in detail by Mike -- is a 5 seater with an acceleration of 0 to 100 kph of around 10 seconds. Top speed is 160 kph (100 mph), with a lithium-ion iron phosphate battery and a range per charge of 300 km (186 miles). But get this: BYD says the battery had a life of 2,000 cycles, for a lifetime range of about 600,000 km (373,000 miles). Supposedly, a fast charge can bring the battery to 80% SOC in about 15 minutes.
The e6 is set to hit the Chinese market in 2009 or 2010, and will be priced at about RMB 200,000 (about US$28,500).
BYD: F6DM and F3DM
The "DM" or "Dual Mode" F6DM and F3DM both have a 1.0L gasoline engine combined with a 50kW motor and a 20kW power generator. Their 19.8kWh batteries alone are capable of running 100km, the company says. The FD6M initial cost? 50,000 yuan ($7,150) more expensive than the base model, so in total around 150,000 yuan (about US$21,500). Half the price of the Prius in China now.
As Mike points out, this car could beat the Chevy Volt as the world's first plug-in hybrid.
Called the "Chinese MINI," -- not to be confused with the "Chinese MINI Clone" -- the FI is meant to be the cheapest Chinese-made car, to be priced between 30,000 yuan ($4,290) and 40,000 yuan when it hits the market. It features an eco-friendly 1.0 L three-cylinder 12-valve SOHC engine, with a max output of 50kW/6,000rpm and a max torque of 90nm.
Note that while this car is made by China's biggest battery manufacturer, it is not a hybrid; it's just China's smallest and cheapest car yet, containing what its company says is a lightweight, efficient engine.
On that note, it's also worth mentioning that fuel efficiency information for most of these cars has not been provided.
Haima: H1/Fu Shi Da
Needs 4-5 hours to a full charge, probably because it uses lead acid batteries. Also features regenerative breaking technology.
The Geely FCE has 1.6 92bhp engine, with a hybrid drivetrain giving out 40bhp of power.
Great Wall: Kulla
The Kulla is a 2-seater pure electric vehicle with a maximum running distance of 140km on a single charge.
Great Wall: Peri
The car that angered Fiat due to its strong resemblance to the Panda contains a 50 kW electric motor with lithium-ion batteries, a maximum operating range of 180 kilometers, a top speed of 130 km/h, and an operating cost of under 100 yuan ($1.43 USD) for every 100 kilometers. The company claims a 70 percent charge in 10 minutes. We'll see.
Great Wall: Hover Hybrid
Great Wall's hybrid SUV promises oil savings of 15% when being driven around the city. Says China Car Times: "an excellent idea seeing as most Hover owners would never take their car off road anyway."
Guangzhou Automotive Group: AHEV
The partners of Toyota and Honda in China showed off this electric car concept, one a two door coupe, the other a four door version. They are aiming for a 2010 launch of a hybrid version.
Soueast: X1 Plug-in HEV
The only sports car among the bunch is a hot, modern collage of all sorts of other cars.
One major key to achieving China's green driving dreams is better enforcement of intellectual property laws. The longer Western automakers feel uncomfortable lending their green tech to China, the longer it will be before hybrid prices come down and technology improves. As the designs of some of more than a few Chinese cars illustrate, intellectual property protection in China still has a long way to go.
The government, wary of a jump in SUV sales last year, is pushing auto efficiency from its side. It has imposed vehicle taxes, ranging from 1 to 20 percent, based on engine size, and instituted stringent standards for fuel-efficiency, with extra taxes of 5 to 15 percent on models that fail.
But incentives -- like tax breaks or research money -- for green cars are needed too.
According to Wu Zhixin, director of research and development at the China Automotive Technology and Research Center, in the WSJ,
the majority of Chinese drivers would be willing to buy a hybrid -- if the price tag were no more than 20% higher than that of a conventional car. That is a tough challenge since compact and smaller cars, which made up 67% of all car sales in China last year, are selling for as little as $4,500.
Wu Zongxin, dean of Tsinghua University's Institute of Nuclear and New Energy Technology "says the government should start replacing its own vehicle fleets with hybrids to help auto makers gain economies of scale and bring prices down."
A rise in fuel prices, above the current $3 a gallon, would help too. But given the crazy inflation currently sweeping China, that seems unlikely for the time being.
Update: Green Leap Forward puts this latest burst of green car buzz in perspective.
Also on TH: China's Cars Come in Green, Young Chinese: Cars First, Then Sustainable Consumption, Dude! Where Can I Park My Car in China?, China's Automotive Era Kicks Into High Gear, Chinese Carmaker Developing Hybrid Car , BYD E6