China se lanza a la conquista del mercado de los vehículos eléctricos

China quiere ser el gran productor mundial de automóviles eléctricos, para reducir su dependencia del petróleo, que llega a ese país por rutas marítimas controladas por la marina de EE UU.

China también quiere reducir la contaminación atmosférica de sus grandes ciudades, según señala el New York Times de ayer. Sin embargo, 75 por ciento de la energía del país se produce con carbón, el combustible más contaminante, aunque las centrales termoeléctricas suelen estar lejos de las ciudades.

China tiene un potencial eólico inmenso, sobre todo en la Mongolia interior, que podría convertirla en la Arabia Saudí de la energía eólica.

Hasta ahora los coches eléctricos fabricados en China tenían una autonomía de 192 kilómetros entre cargas, y una velocidad máxima de 96 kilómetros por hora. Los nuevos modelos mejoran sustancialmente las prestaciones.

El mayor problema logístico es que la compañía eléctrica estatal debe construir muchas estaciones para recargar los vehículos eléctricos, dado que en las ciudades predominan los edificios grandes y multifamiliares, y sería casi imposible tener aparatos unifamiliares suficientes para cargar los vehículos. El gobierno chino ya ha dado la orden de construir puntos de recarga en las ciudades de Beijing, Shanghai y Tianjin.

Los vehículos eléctricos son más caros que los de gasolina, a pesar de la subvención de unos 8.800 dólares que dará el gobierno chino a los compradores institucionales y de ciertos sectores, como taxis. No obstante la ayuda, el sedán familiar costará unos 22.000 dólares, frente a unos 14.000 dólares que costaría el mismo vehículo de gasolina.

China aspira producir unos 500.000 automóviles eléctricos, puros o híbridos enchufables, para el año 2011, pero la competencia será dura, porque para entonces Japón y Corea del Sur producirán 1,1 millones de híbridos enchufables y vehículos eléctricos, y Estados Unidos fabricará 267.000.


China Invests to Be Leader in Electric Vehicles
TIANJIN, China — Chinese leaders have adopted a plan aimed at turning the country into one of the leading producers of hybrid and all-electric vehicles within three years, and making it the world leader in electric cars and buses after that.

The goal, which radiates from the very top of the Chinese government, suggests that Detroit’s Big Three, even as they struggle to stay alive, will face even stiffer foreign competition on the next field of automotive technology than they do today.

“China is well positioned to lead in this,” said David Tulauskas, director of China government policy at General Motors.

To some extent, China is making a virtue of a liability: it is behind the United States, Japan and other countries, when it comes to making gas-powered vehicles. But by skipping the current technology, China hopes to get a jump on the next.

Japan is the market leader in hybrids today, which run on both electricity and gasoline, with cars like the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight. The United States has been a laggard in alternative vehicles. G.M.’s plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt is scheduled to go on sale next year, and will use rechargeable batteries imported from LG in South Korea.

China’s intention, in addition to creating a world-leading industry that will produce jobs and exports, is to reduce urban pollution and decrease its dependence on oil, which comes from the Mideast and travels over sea routes controlled by the United States Navy.

But electric vehicles may do little to clear the country’s smog-darkened sky or curb its rapidly rising emissions of global warming gases. China gets three-fourths of its electricity from coal. which produces more soot and more greenhouse gases than other fuels.

A report by McKinsey & Company last autumn estimated that replacing a gasoline-powered car with a similarly sized electric car in China would reduce greenhouse emissions by only 19 percent. It would reduce urban pollution, however, by shifting the source of smog from car exhaust pipes to power plants often located outside cities.

Beyond manufacturing, taxi fleets and local government agencies in 13 Chinese cities are being offered subsidies of up to $8,800 for each hybrid or all-electric vehicle they purchase. The state electricity grid has been ordered to set up electric car charging stations in Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin.

Government research subsidies for electric car designs are increasing rapidly. And an interagency panel is planning tax credits for consumers who buy alternative energy vehicles.

China wants to raise its annual production capacity to 500,000 hybrid or all-electric cars and buses by the end of 2011, from 2,100 last year, government officials and Chinese auto executives said. By comparison, CSM Worldwide, a consulting firm that does forecasts for automakers, predicts that Japan and South Korea together will be producing 1.1 million hybrid or all-electric light vehicles by then and North America will be making 267,000.

The U.S. Department of Energy has its own $25 billion program to develop electric-powered cars and improve battery technology, and will receive another $2 billion for battery development as part of the economic stimulus program enacted by Congress.

Premier Wen Jiabao highlighted the importance of electric cars two years ago with his unlikely choice to become minister of science and technology: Wan Gang, a Shanghai-born former Audi auto engineer in Germany who later became the chief scientist for the Chinese government’s research panel on electric vehicles.

Mr. Wan is the first minister in at least three decades who is not a member of the Communist Party.

And Premier Wen has his own connection to the electric car industry. He was born and grew up here in Tianjin, the longtime capital of China’s battery industry, 70 miles southeast of Beijing.

Tianjin has thrived in the six years since Mr. Wen became premier. It now has China’s first bullet train service (to Beijing), a new Airbus factory and an immaculate new airport. Tianjin has also received a surge of research subsidies for enterprises like the Tianjin-Qingyuan Electric Vehicle Company.

Electric cars have several practical advantages in China. Intercity driving is rare. Commutes are fairly short and frequently at low speeds because of traffic jams. So the limitations of all-electric cars — the latest models in China have a top speed of 60 miles an hour and a range of 120 miles between charges — are less of a problem.

First-time car buyers also make up four-fifths of the Chinese market, and these buyers have not yet grown accustomed to the greater power and range of gasoline-powered cars.

But the electric car industry faces several obstacles here too. Most urban Chinese live in apartments, and cannot install recharging devices in driveways, so more public charging centers need to be set up.

Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries also have a poor reputation in China. Counterfeit lithium-ion batteries in cellphones occasionally explode, causing injuries. And Sony had to recall genuine lithium-ion batteries in laptops in 2006 and 2008 after some overheated and caught fire or exploded.

These safety problems have been associated with lithium-ion cobalt batteries, however, not the more chemically stable lithium-ion phosphate batteries now being adapted to automotive use.

The tougher challenge is that all lithium-ion batteries are expensive, whether made with cobalt or phosphate. That will be a hurdle for thrifty Chinese consumers. especially if gas prices stay relatively low compared to their highs last summer.

China is tackling the challenges with the same tools that helped it speed industrialization and put on the Olympics: immense amounts of energy, money and people.

BYD has 5,000 auto engineers and an equal number of battery engineers, most of them living at its headquarters in Shenzhen in a cluster of 15 yellow apartment buildings each 18 stories high. Young engineers earn less than $600 a month, including benefits.

When Tianjin-Qingyuan puts its entirely battery-powered Saibao midsize sedan on sale this autumn, the body will come from a sedan that normally sells for $14,600 when equipped with a gasoline engine. But the engine and gas tank will be replaced with a $14,000 battery pack and electric motor, said Wu Zhixin, the company’s general manager.

That means the retail price will nearly double, to almost $30,000. Even if the government awards the maximum subsidy of $8,800 to buyers, that is a hefty premium.

Large-scale production could drive down the cost of the battery pack and electric motor by 30 or 40 percent, still leaving electric cars more expensive than gasoline-powered ones, Mr. Wu said.

But Mr. Wu has plenty of money to pursue improvements. He interrupted an interview at his company’s headquarters on Thursday to take a call on his cellphone, politely declined an offer from the caller, and hung up.

The general manager of a state-controlled bank had called to ask if he needed a loan, he explained. 
BYD’s Electric Car Is About Making Money, Not Saving the Planet
China’s E6 Electric Car: ‘we’re Not Trying to Save the World – We’re Trying to Make Money’
Its release imminent, BYD Auto’s revolutionary E6 electric car is integral to China’s plan to dominate the global market for ‘clean-transport’ 

When BYD Auto launches one of China’s first mass produced fully electric sedans later this year, it will be trying to conquer the world rather than save it. But such is the explosive growth of China’s car market and thirst for petrol that the two goals are likely to become ever more synonymous.

The E6 plug-in is currently under wraps at the company’s sprawling industrial complex in Shenzhen, but it will soon be at the vanguard of a company’s – and a nation’s – plans to dominate the global market for "clean-transport".

Senior government leaders have initiated a major push for hybrid and electric vehicles in a bid to bypass car makers overseas and avoid an environmental meltdown at home.

The consultancy McKinsey estimates that China’s car market will grow tenfold between 2005 and 2030, which will drive up demand for diesel and petrol from 110 million tonnes to 500 million tonnes. That will mean a sharp rise in carbon emissions from a country that has already overtaken the US as the world’s biggest source of greenhouse gases.

Hybrid, electric and fuel cell vehicles could ease the burden, but they will not solve the problem because at the moment more than 70% of China’s electricity is powered by coal, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels. Even if there is a large scale take up of the new technologies, which could cut emissions by 19%, McKinsey estimates that the combined emissions from road transport would still increase more than fourfold within the next two decades.

Faced by this nightmare, the authorities recently announced plans for 50,000 yuan rebates for electric and hybrid cars, encouraged city taxi fleets to buy vehicles with the new technology, and prompted state and regional grids to set up charging stations.

BYD is likely to be a major beneficiary. The initials stand for Build Your Dreams, which prompted snickers when the company debuted in US car shows last year, as did the soaring ambitions of the founder Wang Chuanfu, who has stated that BYD will be the biggest carmaker in China by 2015 and the biggest in the world by 2025.

Despite it making a third of the world’s mobile phone batteries, until recently few people outside of China had heard of BYD. But the company exploded into the international consciousness late last year by beating Toyota and General Motors to launch the world’s first mass-produced plug-in hybrid.

At the company’s sprawling headquarters in Guangdong province, there is little outward sign that BYD is a world beater. Apart from the golden pillars at the entrance, the company’s offices are as grimly utilitarian as any other factory in the workshop of the world.

But style is not the point. The company has built an empire by offering cheap, high-quality batteries and now it aims to do the same for cars.

In February, just six years after its was formed, the firm sold 28,000 gasoline and diesel cars in China, more than any foreign or domestic rival. Its 10,000 research engineers have also designed the ferrous battery technology of the E6, which will be released before mass-produced electric cars from Honda and Nissan.

The plug-in five-seater will reportedly be able to travel 400km on a single charge and reach a top speed of 160km/h. "We are trying to make an electric car that people can use like a normal car," says Henry Li, the head of BYD Auto’s export and trade division, as we drive around the company’s car park in the BYD’s other new breakthrough vehicle, the F3DM.

Like the company, the hybrid starts out so quietly you barely notice it moving. At low speeds, the battery-powered engine makes only a fraction more noise than the tyres on the road. But put your foot on the pedal and the vehicle roars to life as the gas kicks in.

Acceleration from 0-60km/h in 10.5 seconds will not win any Formula One races. Neither will the hybrid’s current sales scare

rivals. The company says orders are only in the "several hundred" range, mostly from the Shenzhen local governments and BYD’s main bank.

Analysts are withholding judgment on whether BYD can achieves its ambitious targets. "BYD’s battery technology is good and that is important, but cars are more complicated than that," says Zhao Junhua of CSM Worldwide in Shanghai. "BYD will need more experience. Chinese firms are still behind Japanese rivals like Toyota, Honda and Nissan."

There are also many questions about the environmental benefits of electric cars, given China’s reliance on coal.Electric vehicles drive down carbon emissions best if they are charged at night with wind or other forms of renewable energy, but this is not currently possible in China.

But they do use energy more efficiently than both petrol and diesel driven cars, and environment groups says electric vehicles can at least reduce the huge negative impact from the spread of car culture in China.

"Electric cars would be a big step forward," said Greenpeace executive director Gerd Leipold on a visit to Beijing this week. "Hybrid cars have a better reputation than their ecological performance merits."

BYD may lead the pack in China, but the government is encouraging others to move into clean transport manufacturing – an area where it hopes domestic companies can overtake bigger foreign rivals.

At an exhibition of clean energy technology in Beijing last week, the science and technology minister, Wan Gang, said the country aimed to come out of the economic downturn greener and more advanced than it went in. "Accompanying every financial crisis is a revolution in technology that serves as an engine for economic development. This time, new energy technology will probably be the new driving force."

Every few weeks there is fresh news that China is upgrading its transport and energy infrastructure. Last month, Chery Auto unveiled a battery electric vehicle – the S18EV – that it says has a range of 150km on a single charge. Shortly before that, Xinri Electric Vehicle started building an industrial park capable of producing five million electric scooters and bicycles per year. And Tianjin-Qingyuan has recently announced that it may precede BYD with the autumn release of a fully battery-powered Saibao sedan.

More than a dozen other firms have begun manufacturing electric buses. However, the gusto with which many Chinese people have embraced the idea of clean energy was most evident however in a display of a sanlunche – the boxed three-wheel scooters that are a familiar sight in Beijing’s alleyways – fitted with wing-like solar panels.

But, so far, none have gone as far as BYD. Li says it is simply a matter of business. "We are not trying to save the world, we are making money. Our strategy aims to give value to shareholders. If we can help the planet at the same time, all the better."