Electric vehicles get green light in China

Premier Li Keqiang vowed during the just-concluded National People’s Congress to tackle China’s massive pollution problem and that promise could lead to many more green vehicles in the country. Electric vehicles had already enjoyed a sales surge just before the two sessions started.

The sale of green vehicles has suddenly become a hot item as the government strengthens measures to curb China’s choking pollution. Beijing and Shanghai late last month released a list of new energy vehicle brands that can be sold in the cities, breaking territory protection for the first time.

Shenzhen-based carmaker BYD sold 600 electric cars on the first day it entered the Beijing market. In addition, about 1,400 people have won the right to buy electric cars in China’s first lottery for purchasing the environmentally friendly vehicles. Experts say 2014 might be the beginning of an e-car era in China.

“This year might be the first year for electric cars to belong to Chinese families,” said Professor Ouyang Minggao at Tsinghua University’s Dept. of Automotive Engineeting. “From the information we know, a household car market has already been initiated. To be honest, I think air pollution may push e-cars into Chinese families.”

So far, there are only about 40,000 new energy cars in China. Analysts say the use of electric vehicles has been growing at a slow pace. However, analysts expect the use of green cars to gain traction as the smog worsens in China’s cities.

Promoting new energy compliant cars was first brought under a scheme at the national level in 2009 after a document raised the requirement that China’s automobile industry should be able to produce 500,000 electric cars by 2011.

Later in 2012, China further announced that 500,000 electric cars or hybrid electric vehicles should be sold by 2015, and 5 million by 2020. Despite the grand vision, there are only over 40,000 clean energy cars currently in the market, most of which are being used for public transport.

Take Shenzhen for example, 49 percent of the city’s clean energy vehicles are buses. In September 2013, the Chinese government released its latest round of subsidies for new energy vehicle buying, with cash refund ranging from 35,000 to 200,000 yuan per car.