Manufacturing News

Chinese automakers have yet to deliver their EV promises

Automakers in China have been quick to announce plans to develop electric cars. But few have delivered as promised.

BYD's E6 electric passenger car

Earlier this year, for example, Zotye Holding Group announced its electric SUV would be ready for export by the end of the year. But a source at the company now says there are no plans to export the  vehicle.

Geely Automobile Co. also once said its Panda EV would be ready for release in October. Now, however, Geely's spokesperson says the car will not be launched in October. He says the launch date is currently not known.

Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. and Chery Automobile Co. are also developing electric vehicles. Release dates are slated for between 2010 and 2012, although it will be no surprise if there are more delays.

Will local automakers succeed in making electric vehicles? "Yes, I think so," says Duan Chengwu, a senior analyst at Global Insight Inc. "But not in the short term."

Of all the automakers expecting to release electric vehicles, Duan feels BYD has the best chance to be successful.  BYD's is expected to release its E6 electric passenger car this year.

"BYD is a battery maker—they have been working on batteries for more than 15 years,"says Duan, adding that the company does not sell its batteries to automakers in China. 

Chery, Zotye and other would-be EV makers currently buy their lithium ion batteries from Wanxiang, according to Duan.

Battery technology holds the key

Automakers in China are rushing to build electric vehicles capable of running on highways alongside regular passenger cars. Since the key to electric vehicles is the battery, their success or failure will be determined by the capability of their batteries.

Wanxiang EV Co. has developed polymer lithium ion batteries. In April this year, the company began construction of a new plant in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, which it says will be ready in mid-September.

BYD Co. has developed a low cost iron phosphate based lithium battery. In January BYD announced it was open to licensing its battery technology. In May, Volkswagen AG signed an MOU with BYD on battery development.

Other types of batteries being developed in the industry in China for use in electric vehicles include traditional lead acid batteries, nickel-hydrogen batteries, nickel cadmium batteries and zinc-nickel batteries.

"Chinese players have a chance to play a leading role in the global e-vehicle and component market in the future," says Marcus Hoffman of Roland Berger Strategy Consultants.

Hoffman says one main driver of electric vehicle development is the goal of the Chinese government to make the Chinese automotive industry a technology pioneer of future electric powertrain systems.

"We estimate the market for E-components by 2020 to be around 20–50 billion euro ($28-70 billion)," says Hoffman. "From our point of view there is a good chance BYD as well as Wanxiang will be able to compete on a global level."

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