Chinese electric vehicles, no all EVs, need to be good for reasons beyond not using gas
I recently wrote a blog for http://www.plugincars.com about the Zotye all-electric SUV. www.zotye.com I was pretty critical of the vehicle. The comments to that posting strengthened a belief I already held: electric vehicle fanatics live in their own little fantasy world. In that world, a car that can’t pass U.S. safety standards, meet U.S. consumer demands for a non-electric car, and possibly not live up to the manufacturer’s claims, is just fine so long as it doesn’t use any gas. Fortunately, that is not the real world. Chinese automakers need to realize that, too.
I haven’t ridden in Zotye’s small SUV, I’ve just seen it in still photos and online. But I have talked with people who are very familiar with it, and they tell me it isn’t ready for the U.S. market.
One person I talked to, several months ago, was Wu Aibing, a Zotye executive who is over here in California working on starting imports. He told me then that Zotye had a lot of work to do before the car was ready for the U.S. market. He expressed the same thoughts to a friend of mine who met him at a dinner a few weeks ago. Another person familiar with the vehicle said it currently would not pass the side impact test and that the head and tail lights needed to be redesigned, among other issues.
Then, my friend received an email invite to a ride-and-drive of the Zotye electric SUV up in the San Francisco Bay Area. The invite came from someone named Ghyrn Loveness; Rong Yiwen of TZG Partners www.tzgpartners.com was cc’ed on the invite message. (It was cancelled due to rain.) Neither responded to my email.
So who are these folks? According the TZG Partners website, it is a Shanghai-based investment firm. As for Loveness, according to his Linkedin profile, he is a “technology entrepreneur and scientist in energy and infrastructure.”
He doesn’t seem to have taken a very scientific approach in his evaluation of the Zotye SUV. The invite is filled with inaccuracies large and small. A small inaccuracy: That the Zotye model at the ride and drive is the first in the U.S. At least one more has been here a while. There is an Facebook video of it driving around a Dallas, TX suburb. I wrote about Green Automotive, the company that wants to import the SUV, in an earlier blog. www.usaelectricauto.com Nine more Zotye SUVs are on the way to the U.S., or are already here, for the purposes of testing. Eight are electric; one is CNG.
A larger inaccuracy: The invite calls Zotye “the third largest auto-manufacturer in (China) with a little over 50,000 units sold each year.” That would be a surprise to FAW-VW, the actual third-largest manufacturer in China in 2010. According to J.D. Power and Associates, FAW-VW, a joint venture between First Auto Works and Volkswagen, produced more than 882,000 units in 2010.
Zotye sold just fewer than 100,000 units of its own brand in 2010, but only a handful was electric SUVs. And they were “sold” just so Zotye would have the bragging rights, figures an analyst friend in China.
Be patient, I’m getting around to the point of this blog, which is that people need to get a grip where electric vehicles, Chinese or otherwise, are concerned. And that Chinese automakers need to step up their game where EVs are concerned (you’ve heard that from me before).
Readers of my plugincars.com blog defended Zotye’s electric SUV merely because it is electric, even though most hadn’t ridden in or driven it, and had only seen photos of the vehicle. The tone of the comments ranged from virulently nasty to innocuously dumb. Here’s an innocuous example:
“Honestly, does anyone offer the “perfect” all-electric vehicle…I say not. Is this all-electric SUV a place to start towards a greener tomorrow, definitely!”
Actually, people do expect the perfect electric vehicle. Or at least a really good one. And in ways besides fuel economy.
“People aren’t willing compromise on anything,” says Ian Beavis, head of Nielsen Automotive, a division of The Nielsen Company. “They want anything they can get on their gas vehicle on an electric vehicle.”
The fact that electric vehicles are priced at a premium makes their quality even more important, says Beavis. “You have to be the best possible gas vehicle and then have the electric capability,” he says.
Bottom line: People don’t cut regular cars slack on fit and finish quality, or other extras such as accessories. And in the world beyond the EV dreamosphere, they aren’t going to cut electric vehicles that kind of slack, either.
For those who argue that Chinese electric vehicles will be cheaper than the EVs made by western OEs, so people will accept a lower quality, Beavis points out that the main extra cost for electric vehicles involves the battery, and Chinese companies can’t do much about that. So they will lose their cost advantage. When they start making batteries that are truly robustm that is.
Chinese battery makers might be able to produce batteries at lower prices than non-Chinese competitors right now. But they aren’t that good. If they make comparable batteries to competitors, the price will rise.
I’ve read many reports and talked to many people who say China’s battery technology is not yet mature. Indeed, Miao Wei, head of China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, said as much recently at a forum in Beijing. http://www.miit.gov.cn/n11293472/n11293832/n11293907/n11368223/13643753.html
I don’t have anything against Chinese electric vehicle producers. I’d love for us to have a world free of cars powered by gasoline. And for Chinese brands to be a part of that world. Some may be. But to ignore shortcomings in any electric vehicle just because it is electric is foolish. EVs need to meet the same standards as other cars, and Chinese automakers are having trouble doing that. They need to step up their game, if they can.