Volkswagen AG plans 15 new-energy models over 3-5 years, its China
chief told a green car conference in Beijing on Saturday, predicting
- like the government - that Chinese production of electric and
plug-in hybrid vehicles would grow almost six times to 2 million
annually by 2020.
At the same event, BYD Co Ltd's chairman told media that the Chinese
automaker's electric vehicle sales would double in each of the next
The government has been promoting electric vehicles to cut the smog
that frequently envelops Chinese cities, helping sales quadruple
last year and making China the biggest market, the finance minister
said at the conference. Less than 1 percent of passenger cars are
now new energy, but the pace of growth raises their potential to
A series of studies by Tsinghua University, whose alumni includes
the incumbent president, showed electric vehicles charged in China
produce two to five times as much particulate matter and chemicals
that contribute to smog versus petrol-engine cars. Hybrid vehicles
fare little better.
"International experience shows that cleaning up the air doesn't
need to rely on electric vehicles," said Los Angeles-based An Feng,
director of the Innovation Center for Energy and Transportation.
"Clean up the power plants."
China plans to convert the grid to renewable fuel or clean-coal
technology as part of efforts to cut carbon emissions by 60 percent
That will speed the green impact of electric vehicles, said
environmental science professor Huo Hong at the elite Tsinghua
university. But that goal will be "really difficult to achieve."
Tsinghua's studies call into question the wisdom of aggressively
promoting vehicles which the university said could not be considered
environmentally friendly for at least a decade in many areas of
China unless grid reform accelerates.
China's industry, environment and science ministries, which devise
most new energy vehicle policies, did not respond to requests for
comment. BYD and Volkswagen declined to immediately comment.
To promote new-energy vehicles, the government has offered various
incentives in recent years including tax breaks, and set targets
such as having 5 million new-energy vehicles on the road by 2020 -
more than 8 times the current number.
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Authorities in some cities particularly affected by smog have gone
further. Beijing and Tianjin, for instance, have exempted new-energy
vehicles from limits on the number of new cars granted license
plates, and exempted them from driving restrictions that other cars
face on certain days of the week.
This month, the industrial Hebei province decreed that all new
residential complexes must have car-charging facilities.
In western Beijing, 62-year-old retired truck and taxi driver Zhang
Zhijun bought a BYD Tang hybrid last month and plans to trade in his
petrol-engine Toyota Corolla for an electric car for short rides
like taking his grandson to school.
"Right now smog is very heavy in China. This way, if everyone does
their part, it will definitely cut down on pollution," Zhang said.
But Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei are all more than 90 percent reliant
on coal for energy, Tsinghua's research showed.
Huo and academics point out that, at the very least, the
proliferation of electric vehicles pushes more sources of pollution
away from heavily populated urban centers.
Whatever the impact, Qin Lihong, president of startup electric
automaker NextEV, said cleaning the grid would be the quickest route
to clear skies.
"It's much easier for society to make hundreds of power plants
better than change the hundreds of millions of cars in thousands of
cities," he said.
(Reporting by Jake Spring; Additional reporting by Beijing newsroom;
Editing by Christopher Cushing)
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