Electric cars roll into Bay Area

Updated: 2013-10-02 11:16

By Yu Wei in San Francisco (China Daily)

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As China announced a new subsidy plan for electric vehicles (EV), San Francisco policymakers and educators are inviting drivers to get behind the wheel of an electric car and test-drive the EV difference for themselves.

The second annual EV Week Expo kicked off on Monday in San Francisco. The five-day event, held in three cities - San Francisco, Palo Alto, and San Jose - aims to engage, educate and excite Bay Area drivers about the benefits, ease and accessibility of EV ownership.

"We've got 600 ride and drives in San Francisco and Palo Alto in three days. Our goal is to get 1,000 people to test-drive these electric vehicles," said Maureen Blanc, director of Charge Across Town, an environmental program that promotes the use of EVs. "Once you get into an electric car, you can tell the difference."

About 20 percent of car-buyers in the San Francisco Bay Area bought purely electric cars this year. Blanc said open-mindedness to new technology, well-equipped and -located charging facilities and a strong renewable energy portfolio in the area contribute to the Bay Area's leadership position in the embracing of EV technology.

Electric cars roll into Bay Area

Ken Cheng, a California resident, inspects a new Tesla at its San Jose store before taking it for a test drive. Yu Wei / China Daily

This year's show offers 15 different models of electric and hybrid vehicles for test-drives, including Tesla's well-publicized zero-emission Model S sedan, which is getting a lot of attention.

Andrew Xuan, a senior applications engineer at Oracle waiting for a Tesla test-drive, said he was a potential Tesla buyer because of the car's great performance, beautiful design and environmentally friendly qualities.

Xuan, who is from China's Sichuan province, said he would never consider buying an electric car in China because of the lack of charging stations there. "Unlike in the US where people can charge their cars in their garages, most people in China live in high-density apartments, where it is impossible to install a charger."

Tesla started formal pre-order bookings for the Model S on the Chinese mainland last month. The country's increasingly wealthy middle class, the government's new push for clean energy, and 300-plus orders in Hong Kong have all given the Palo Alto-based manufacturer high hopes about its prospects there.

According to Bloomberg News, China's government is targeting cumulative sales of 5 million electric vehicles by 2020, even though just 12,791 were sold there last year. And there are only 168 public charging stations nationwide, which seems to justify Xuan's worries.

Leping Huang, an analyst at Nomura in Hong Kong, said the lack of charging infrastructure is a bottleneck for EV popularity not only in China, but in the entire world.

"I assume most of Tesla buyers in China will mainly use it as second car for leisure, not daily commuting," he said.

Tesla plans to open a Beijing showroom this year. Based on the reception Tesla got in Hong Kong, Huang predicted it should do well in Beijing too.

While foreign electric automakers are eager to get a foothold in the second largest economy, the competition in China's growing new car market is intense.

Shenzhen-based car company BYD announced it would launch a new plug-in hybrid model next year called the Tang, which is billed to be faster than Tesla's Roadster.

Huang said Tesla can get a good start in China with high-end consumers, but for mass adoption of EVs in China, models from BYD were needed.

The Chinese government has become increasingly supportive of new energy vehicles. It recently renewed subsidies of up to $9,800 to buyers of all-electric passenger cars in an effort to reduce air pollution in major cities.

"There are many innovative automakers in China and we've seen a few Chinese EVs come into the US," Blanc said. "China could be a huge EV country and really lead the way in the future."

(China Daily USA 10/02/2013 page2)