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China should not overestimate new-energy vehicles
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As China's automakers accelerate development of hybrid and electric vehicles, experts and industry insiders say more attention should be paid to researching energy-saving technologies for conventional vehicles.

The Changchun International Automobile Exhibition from July 15 to 26 in northeast China's Jilin Province is showcasing a range of "new-energy vehicles."

Chinese manufacturer Hebei Zhongxing Automobile Co., Ltd. displays a hybrid vehicle, which starts on electricity and shifts to gasoline.

"Oil consumption can be reduced by 17 to 20 percent," said Zhang Chao, vice president of the company.

Besides Zhongxing, about a dozen automakers, including BYD, Chery, Lifan, Geely, and institutes are developing new-energy vehicle technologies, but industry insiders say China should not overestimate the new cars as the market and technologies are immature.

"The market share of new-energy automobiles will not exceed 10 percent by 2020. Most cars will still rely on gasoline," said Zhang Xiaoyu, president of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) of China.

"Shifting from conventional energy to new energy will take a very long time in the automobile industry. We should never neglect research into energy-saving technologies for conventionally powered vehicles."

Xu Heyi, president of Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Co., Ltd., said: "We are not sure whether hybrid or pure electric vehicles will become the major direction for the development of new energy vehicles. Also, the key technologies are very complex, which leads to high manufacturing costs.

"As no purely electric vehicles are on Chinese roads, and it needs time to build stations to charge electric cars, it is still not clear when the new energy automobile can reach mass production and enter the market," he said.

China revealed a plan in February to boost its automobile industry, aiming to produce 500,000 purely electric power automobiles, plug-in hybrids and normal hybrids in three years, accounting for 5 percent of the automobile market.

With government encouragement, new energy cars produced by Chinese domestic automobile manufacturers are hitting the showrooms.

BYD Auto, which stands for Build Your Dreams, has produced the F3DM and F6DM dual-mode electric vehicles that combine a pure-electric mode with a hybrid drive system that incorporates a small gasoline engine.

The Dual Mode (DM) Electric Vehicle system integrates an advanced generator and motor controller, which lead to lower fuel consumption and emissions, as well as greater power and performance.

But China's automakers still lag behind auto giants in Japan, Germany and the United States in battery technologies that allow vehicles to run long on a single charge, experts say.

The government, enterprises and research institutions should cooperate to develop China's new energy automobile industry, said James E. Smith, president of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International.

He said research and innovation were essential for China's automobiles to enter Western markets.

China's auto sales stood at 6.099 million units during the first half, up 17.69 percent year on year, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM).

China surpassed the United States to become the biggest automobile market in the world in January. Both auto sale and production figures in the first six months had set a half-year record.

(Xinhua News Agency July 21, 2009)

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