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This year’s Auto China: All about those PHEVs

May 16, 2015

What a difference a few years makes. In 2013, the year the latest NEV policy was issued, electric vehicles – including pure electric and plug-in hybrid electric – were a huge presence at AutoChina. This year electrification was still a big presence – but it was much more subtle. That is because the central government, local governments, and automakers are starting to understand the limitations of the technology. Despite those limitations, however, China’s central government is sticking to its plans for expanded electrification.
I stand by my past predictions that the place where widespread electrification will be seen in China is in fleets, especially municipal government fleets. The technology will make sense for fleets, and even if it doesn’t, Beijing has told local governments to electrify their fleets. So there. But electrified vehicles of all kinds will still be part of the consumer selection as well. They have to be.
The takeaway: Electrification in China is growing but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Plug- in electric vehicles will be a part of China’s car parc, and given the forecast size of China’s light vehicle market, that will mean equal a lot of plug-in electric vehicles ( including pure electric and plug-in hybrid electric). Indeed, China will likely be the biggest PEV market in the world. But there isn’t going to be a wholesale move to electric vehicles.
Dazed but electrified
As usual, I was a bit dazed my first day at the show. I had flown in two days before and was still very sleep-deprived. And just when I had the old venue down, Shanghai moved the show to a huge new venue on the other side of the river in Hongqiao. I was lost a lot.
On the positive side, the show was not at all crowded this year. For one, the venue is enormous. But also the organizers were clearly more successful this year at limiting attendance to press and industry folks instead of family, friends, and just about anyone else who had any connection to someone who should be there on media days.
One thing that was clear is that foreign automakers are betting that plug-in hybrid electric vehicles will be the type of passenger EV that sells in China in the near term. There were a lot of clues: Cadillac chose the Shanghai show for the global debut of its 2016 Cadillac CT6 sedan PHEV. This was handy; GM can please the Chinese government while also showing off a cool-looking luxury car. Volvo, which is a Swedish/Chinese blend, debuted a plug-in hybrid electric version of its S60L sedan. Peugeot and BMW also showed new PHEVs. And that is just the foreign brands.
China’s domestic automakers also had a bevy of electric vehicles in their stands.
Qoros, the company that seems to be always on the verge of putting out a nice car, introduced an in-your-face PHEV, the Qoros 2 concept. BYD, the current star of the PHEV passenger car segment in China, showed a near-production version of its Tang PHEV compact SUV. There were many others, of course. But I was too dazed to note them all.
SAIC isn’t giving up on pure-electric vehicles. BAIC had a big display devoted to electrification, combined with connected car technology. Connected car was a big theme at the show, by the way, but I’m not going in to that here.

BAIC  had a big EV display, combined with its Leshi connected car concept.

BAIC had a big EV display, combined with its Leshi connected car concept.


Besides a new version of its small e50 all-electric vehicle,
SAIC trotted out its e50 EV again.

SAIC trotted out its e50 EV again.


SAIC also showed (among other models) an all-electric van – I think this will be where we see more all-electric models in China. They can be used for municipal and other fleets, and won’t face the same issues finding charging as consumer EVs will since the vans will return to a set location each night.
SAIC's electric van

SAIC’s electric van


Non-automotive firms such as Google and Apple are talking about getting into the car manufacturing business, and Chinese tech firms are doing the same.
Pateo, whose CEO is my old friend Freeman Shen, debuted its concept of a fully-connected electric vehicle.
So electrification is still advancing in China. And it seems many smaller cities in China are still looking to create their own little green technology park, including companies with electric vehicle technology. That’s what I gather from my sources at companies in that sector. So there are still government dollars, and central government goodwill, to be had where pure electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles are concerned.
Now let me get in a shameless plug for an old friend. Many of you likely know Yale Zhang, an analyst and industry consultant extraordinaire. Yale knows China’s automotive market up close and personal. He’s a local guy and has been following the industry for decades.
His company, Auto Foresight, has begun to issue a bi-annual electric vehicle report. I dare say this will be one of the most accurate overviews of the market available. The first report has been out since March; the next one will be out in September.
Here is a link to the contents. I don’t know about you, but I have a really hard time keeping track of the always-evolving NEV policies in China. This report looks like a great way to keep track of that, and see how automakers – and consumers — have responded.
I look forward to referring to it as a handy guide. If you make inquiries about the report, tell them Alysha sent you.

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