In his government work report during the Two Sessions, Premier Li Keqiang said tackling air pollution was at the top of the government’s list. To attain this goal, a multi-pronged strategy is needed. One solution is to develop new energy vehicles, something easier said than done.
A green solution to a chronic problem.
New energy vehicles are rapidly becoming a new trend, after the number of smoggy days in the country hit a record high of 52 last year.
During the Two Sessions, some industry experts predicted 2014 would witness a surge in the sale of new energy cars.
"This year might be a critical year for the popularity of electric cars. I remember 2003 marked the rise of families buying cars because of the SARS outbreak. And this year, due to the prevalent smog, electric vehicles might see a boom in sales," said professor Ouyang Minggao, auto engineering dept, Tsinghua University.
But daunting challenges abound.
Shenzhen, in southern China, boasts the biggest electric public transport system in the world. It has 3,000 electric buses and over 800 electric taxies.
But there are less than 100 private electric cars, most of them used outside the city.
"I use the car mostly in the neighboring city of Dongguan, because it saves costs and fuel," said an electric car driver.
This driver told us her car had a selling price of 370-thousand yuan. But thanks to a government subsidy, it cost her 250 thousand yuan.
But the problem is that certain cities have different charging standards. Her car can only be charged at charging stations in Dongguan.
"It was really awkward once when the car ran out of power and there was no charging station nearby. It’s really not convenient," said an electric car driver.
And as one Shenzhen official told us, institutional barriers are also a problem.
"There are legal impediments. Charging infrastructure needs to obtain prior planning and approval for land use. But the land for charging stations is not included in city planning. So we have to find a piece of land for temporary use," said Lu Xiangzhen, head of Shenzhen Nev Promotion Steering Group.
This temporary land is often converted to other uses. The stations then need to be pulled down and rebuilt elsewhere.
"What troubles us is the shortage of urban land use. The established seven charging stations are all temporary. The land use is renewed every two years. In case of changes in urban planning, we have to move somewhere else. We invested 90 million yuan over the past years, but we’re currently losing 13 million yuan every year," said He Renqiang, chief of CSG Shenzhen Devision.
In response to these problems, industry insiders say the government needs to provide legal guarantees for New Energy Vehicle infrastructure.
"In fact, a lot of customers want to buy electric cars. But one of their biggest concerns is how to charge their cars. So I advise the government to develop a national construction rule on the number and density of charging stations," said An Jin, chairman of JAC Motor.
This year, 12 provinces have already indicated a desire to develop new energy vehicles. 25 cities in China are conducting trial operations of new energy cars.