Why does China prefer pure electric to hybrid vehicles?

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China is the largest car market in the world, but the Chinese automotive industry is far from strong. Few Chinese people want to buy a local brand car if they can afford a foreign branded one.

It is unlikely that Chinese local cars powered by inner combustion engines can catch up with European, American or Japanese cars, so the government thinks a new area is more hopeful for Chinese car manufacturers, which is called new energy cars, including pure electric, hybrid and fuel cell cars. Maybe there is only a small chance that Chinese automakers can pip foreign ones to the new energy car, but China is sparing no efforts in the development of green cars.

Oddly, hybrid cars are seemingly ignored by the policymakers. A private buyer of a pure electric car can obtain up to 60,000 RMB subsidies from the central government – this does not count extra subsidies from some local governments. But a hybrid buyer can get just 3,000 RMB subsidies, only if the displacement is less than 1.6 liters – just like other fuel efficient small cars.

Can the policymakers understand that hybrid car is a more practical choice considering its independence from charging stations layout and battery technology breakthrough? Of course, they can. But Chinese-developed hybrid cars always consume more fuel than conventional cars. Even Buick LaCrosse Hybrid, a car developed by GM’s technical center in China, cannot save fuel in city driving conditions, let alone other hybrid cars of local brands.

To some extent, the hybrid car is not an electric car, because battery is not a key problem for it. The hybrid car is a technological pinnacle of the conventional car, since most hybrid systems include an efficient inner combustion engine and a complicated gearbox for not only shifting gears but also electromechanical coupling. Most Chinese car makers can develop neither engine controller nor automatic transmission. How can they develop an acceptable hybrid system?

Because the fuel consumption of conventional car and hybrid car can be compared very directly, a poor hybrid system without fuel saving can hardly be accepted by any officials and consumers, which means if Chinese automotive industry want to focus on hybrid cars, the start will be extremely difficult.

Pure electric cars’ consumption, in contrast, can hardly be compared with conventional cars directly. Moreover, although nobody can build an electric car with 500km range and 5min charging time, the threshold of the industry is much lower than conventional car’s. That is why Chinese automotive industry prefers pure electric than hybrid – it masks the poor foundation of car industry, and takes on a sense of prosperity temporarily.

Does Chinese pure electric car own many technical advantages? “We are following up foreign technology,” said Wen Jiabao, China’s Prime Minister this month.

About the author  ⁄ Gong Zai Yan

Gong Zaiyan is a researcher at the Center for Automotive Industry, School of Automotive studies, at the prestigious Tongji University.Going Zai Yan focuses on the study of the green vehicle industry in the Chinese market, he also focuses on policy and regulations in the overall market.


  • LoL
    July 26, 2011

    IMO Range Extenders are the best compromise until the real alternative pops up.

  • hk
    July 26, 2011

    Chery has already got a QQ3/M1 EV version with a small Wankel engine for extended range. The price will be very attractive for the general public without recharging facilities…… Hopefully we can buy one in the near future!


    There are so many electric scooters around Chinese small cities that you have to take extra care to walk around those towns. You will be suprised when someone sneek around you in HIGH speed silently………….

  • dragin
    July 26, 2011

    “Most Chinese car makers can develop neither engine controller nor automatic transmission. How can they develop an acceptable hybrid system?”

    At the outset Ford and Nissan both purchased Toyota hybrid technology. Chinese automakers can do the same.

    It is now abundantly clear to Beijing that leapfrogging the hybrid is hard to do.

  • Gong
    July 27, 2011

    Yes, some Chinese auto makers buy foreign hybrid system, like EATON. But I think Toyota will not sold theirs to Chinese – they donot want Chinese makers grow too fast. And, China has made new regulations for local green suppliers, not only local green carmakers.

  • EVsRoll
    July 29, 2011

    The EV should work very well in large urban centers in places like China. The range of the modern EV is plenty for practical urban use, and in the case of China would be great for cleaner air.

    People usually think they need more range than they actually do need. This has recently been verified…http://www.evsroll.com/Electric_Car_Range.html


  • Gong
    July 29, 2011

    Yes, just like people buy a SUV but never drive it offroad!

  • Gong
    July 29, 2011

    A good website!

  • Henry Fjord
    July 29, 2011

    I’ve asked before and I’ll ask again: Exactly WHERE will the owners plug in their cars to recharge them?
    All these comments on EV cars, do ANY of you live in China?

  • Gong
    July 30, 2011

    State Grid or some other company should biuld many charging pole in car park. But we should wait a long time.

  • Takeanotherlook
    August 2, 2011

    Chinese Grid system at residential level NOT capable of putting out enough power to recharge vehicles at home. Only can charge them in central cities and if they only have 25-50km range you may have to recharge them daily as Cab drivers have found out! These vehicles not good for average commuter who may be stuck in 10 Mile Traffic Jams each day, that is why vehicles are NOT SELLING despite all the govt incentives. What good is a car you can only drive 2 days a week?

  • Henry Fjord
    August 3, 2011

    I have yet to see a car park here that is large enough for current levels of car ownership so putting in charging stations for the makeshift parking arrangements now in use will be a nightmare. Plus for proper recharging you need some sort of covered parking, leaving all that recharging equipment outside and directly exposed to the elements is a non-starter, and as I’ve mentioned before there is the matter of who actually pays for the electricity used to recharge cars. You don’t just need additional infrastructure for charging, you need systems on top of that for use metering and payment processing.

    The people with a residential setup suitable for easy recharge of electric cars are also the people who either are not in the market for electric cars (rural + limited electrical supply from the grid) or have enough money where the cost of petrol is not a concern (urban residents who live in villas or high-end apartment buildings).

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