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The China Wildcard

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  • China’s government has ambitious long-term plans to drive the adoption of EVs.

  • To date, sales of EVs in China have been modest and confined largely to vehicle fleets.

  • OEMs seeking to attract mainstream Chinese consumers to EVs face a number of challenges, including the vehicles’ relatively high current prices and logistical problems associated with recharging.


China is the biggest wildcard in any global EV-growth projection. The government, driven by the desire to leapfrog traditional OEMs in this new technology, reduce dependence on foreign oil, and cut pollution, has ambitious plans to drive adoption of EVs. China’s goal is to have 500,000 EVs—passenger cars, trucks, and buses—on the road by 2015 and 5 million by 2020. It is supporting that goal by setting up an EV alliance of companies across the full value chain, funding it with a war chest of 100 billion yuan, and providing incentives to consumers and automotive-industry players. In parallel, the government has directed State Grid Corporation of China to develop the supporting infrastructure for EVs. SGCC is making large investments and plans to build 2,300 charging stations and 220,000 charging poles from 2011 through 2015.

But local OEMs that introduced EVs early have so far met a cold reception from Chinese consumers. Only around 2,000 electric passenger cars were sold in 2010 (primarily to public-sector fleets) despite central-government incentives as high as 60,000 yuan (approximately $9,000). Simultaneously, global OEMs are stepping up their efforts to penetrate the Chinese market.