THE FUTURE IS BEAUTIFUL: Electric-powered concept model DENZA at the 2012 Beijing International Automobile Exhibition in May, which is jointly launched by Daimler and BYD (XINHUA)
As China tries to spur the momentum of its still-fledgling electric vehicle (EV) industry, a number of accidents and cut-corners are causing the public to wonder if the country needs to ease on the brakes.
In the early hours of May 26, a red Nissan GTR sports car collided with two taxis, setting one, an E6 EV manufactured by BYD Auto, on fire and resulting in the death of the driver and two passengers. As an investigation into the accident ensued, a workshop of EVE Energy in Guangdong Province burned down after a number of lithium cells exploded on June 16.
The two accidents pushed the development of China's e-car market to the center of public attention, raising the question: Are EVs and their volatile components safe?
The government has been quick to respond.
Effective on July 1, the Technical Conditions of Fully Electric Passenger Vehicles released by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) stipulate that EVs must meet general safety standards. Strict standards on energy storage cells, functioning safety as well as prevention and protection against malfunctions were also mentioned. The technical provisions are expected to improve the safety performance of EVs. For now, industrial experts suggest local governments keep calm and not develop EV projects blindly.
Wang Tianshun, Director of the Technology Service Center of the Electric Vehicles Committee of the China Electrotechnical Society, said the key problem with EVs lies in storage cells. He suggested the government and EV producers expand input and strengthen research and development in basic materials to create safer cells. For the time being, and until the problem can be completely solved, China should slow down its hearty ambitions of leading the world's march toward EVs.
The State Council approved on April 18 the Development Plan of Energy-Saving and New Energy Vehicles Industry (2012-20), one that makes EVs a pillar for transforming China's auto industry. The plan also sets a primary target for the country's development of energy-saving and new energy vehicles: 500,000 produced and on the road by 2015, with 5 million by 2020.
The target has inspired local governments to embrace the EV trend. Already, a number of cities have invested heavily in infrastructure projects to support EVs, from building charging stations to implementing favorable policies to pique consumer interest.
Beijing has led the charge in creating infrastructure to facilitate an influx in EVs on the capital's busy streets. The city currently has four charging stations, mainly for electric buses and sanitation vehicles, and expects to have 5,000 public service EVs in use by the end of the year. According to a document released by the Beijing Municipal Commission of Development and Reform, the city also supports charging facilities for private EVs, although for the time being the number of privately owned EVs is close to zero.
Out of safety concerns and exorbitant prices, most prospective EV consumers seem content to stand on the sidelines, at least for now.
Another serious obstacle is the lack of a uniform standard for charging couplers on domestically produced EVs.