The escalating car craze in China is bringing about growing interest in electric and other clean-fuel vehicles.
With Tuesday's kick-off of a dozen key sci-tech projects, electric vehicles (EVs) are once again in the limelight.
The government will earmark 880 million yuan (US$106 million) to support the EV project, said Wan Gang, a professor of Shanghai-based Tongji University and leading scientist for the project.
The traditional auto sector in China lags twenty to thirty years behind developed countries, leaving little chance to catch up. However, the technological and industrialization gap in electric vehicles is relatively narrow, Wang said.
In fact, China initiated its own model EV and concept electric cars in the mid-1990s, and fuel-cell buses have also debuted in the country.
Due to the high cost of batteries, EVs cost two or three times more than average gasoline-fueled vehicles, a hefty tag that has hindered their production the world over, said Li Jian, director of the Ministry of Science and Technology's department of high-tech development and industrialization.
China needs to make breakthroughs in improving battery performance while cutting the cost, to have an advantage in international competition and boost the nation's automotive industry, he said.
To achieve sustainable development, the necessity of developing EVs is even more pressing in China, experts say.
With the improvements in people's living standards, the number of motor vehicles traveling the country has skyrocketed. In Beijing, for example, the annual growth rate of motor vehicles has ranged from 10 percent to 15 percent since the 1990s. There are now 1.73 million motor vehicles in the city, 241 percent more than in 1990. Of the total, 1.04 million are personal cars.
Now that China has entered the World Trade Organization, the rising trend in auto sales has markedly accelerated. During the first quarter of this year alone, more than 50,000 vehicles were registered in Beijing, a jump of 36 percent year-on-year. Nationwide, private car buyers accounted for less than 10 percent of the total ten years ago. By 2000, the figure had jumped to 50 percent.
Hand-in-glove with the increase in demand for automobiles is China's fast-increasing consumption of energy and aggravation of pollution.
The state environmental protection center predicted that by 2010, 64 percent of air pollution in China would come from vehicle exhaust emissions if nothing has been done right now to change the situation.
Most industry insiders share the view that EVs represent the development direction of the automotive industry. They believe such battery-powered vehicles with virtually "zero emission" will help curb air pollution, ease the short supply of energy, and give impetus to the development of the country's automotive industry.
In his article on the outlook of China's urban transportation, academician He Zuoxiu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences listed maglev trains, lithium battery-powered vehicles and folding bicycles as the three major future transportation tools.
Science and Technology Minister Xu Guanhua said the EV project should target at industrialization, be oriented to the market, and lay a sound technological foundation for commercial production of EVs in five to ten years.
China's leading auto producers and elite universities have formed the major force for EV research and development (R&D). The involvement of the First Automotive Corp., Dongfeng Motor (Group) Corp., Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp., Tsinghua University and Tongji University in the project has resulted in a total R&D input of more than 2.5 billion yuan (US$3 million).
The project has also aroused interest from among international auto giants. Sources said General Motors, Daimler-Chrysler, Ford and Volkswagen have all contacted related R&D teams and domestic auto-makers. Daimler-Chrysler's vice president and Ford's development manager came to China seeking cooperation.
(Xinhua News Agency July 31, 2002)