Beijing was EV central, at the show and on the road in China
One thing was the same at Auto China this year – I was a bit dazed by the end. Part of it is the sheer size, but a larger factor is that I generally have flown in from California one or two days before nowadays and am super jet-lagged.
This year’s show was in Beijing. I used to dislike the Beijing venue intensely. The Shanghai venue, out in Pudong, was easier to navigate and in general more pleasant. Sadly, I now favor Beijing over Shanghai. The new Shanghai venue out in Hongqiao is horrid. I spent about 20% of my time there lost last year. But I rant.
The mood was good at the Beijing show despite all the doom and gloom in the U.S. media about how China’s economic growth is slowing and along with that growth in the auto market. As Lars Danielson, SVP of Asia Pacific for Volvo said to me, the China market is expected to grow five to seven percent this year and “you don’t find that” in developed markets.
Electric vehicles were everywhere, natch. Interestingly, EVs (including PHEVs and BEVs) seemed to be a bit more prevalent than at the Shanghai show last year. But, as my friend and former colleague Yang Jian pointed out in his column in Automotive News China, hybrids were the real story. Hybrids don’t receive subsidies in China, but automakers have to produce them in order to meet China’s fuel economy requirements. But I am not writing about hybrids.
Before the show, my friend Frank O’Brien at Magna had told me the two automakers that seemed the most serious about actually producing EVs were BYD and BAIC. BYD is a given. EVs are its ace in the hole. And it had plenty of electrified vehicles on show at its booth, a mix of PHEVs and BEVs.
BAIC is a bit more interesting.
It is selling a lot of EVs – and in BAIC’s case I mean BEVs.
BAIC has gone all-in for BEVs. That is likely because its owner, the Beijing Municipal Government, is pushing it to do so, and rewarding it for doing so. The incentives are higher for BEVs. Importantly, the technology underlying BEVs is also easier for a domestic OE to produce. PHEVs require that tricky integration of the electric and non-electric drivetrains.
I figure Beijing Municipality having a lot of EVs is a good thing. If the capitol of China isn’t committed to electrification, why should the rest of China care about it?
Li Feng, president of BAIC, told me that BAIC would sell 70,000 EVs this year, up from 20,000 last year. That’s a big jump but Li “comes from marketing, so he is always thinking about the marketing angle,” one of his underlings on the sidelines told me. (Li said this to me personally. I talked to him while wandering around the show floor. He was doing an interview and I snagged him afterwards….).
The thing is, there really are a lot of BEVs driving around Beijing. Many, many BAIC E150 BEVs, a cheap little basic EV. But my friend Rob Earley, who lives in Beijing and is COO of MotionECO, a company turning waste cooking oil into biodiesel, tells me there is a Tesla in his complex, and that poorer folks with lesser EVs run extension cords down from high floors to charge their EVs. And I did notice some other EVs,
Of course, Beijing has a lot of sticks and carrots to encourage EV ownership. I wrote about these in an earlier blog – perhaps my last one, I’ve gotten so lazy. Owners of EVs can drive any day on BJ’s clogged freeways, which might not seem like a reward but regular old ICE vehicle owners are restricted according to license plate numbers. BEV buyers also receive nice subsidies towards the purchase.
China won’t reach its rather large New Energy Vehicle (including PHEVs and BEVs) sales target with subsidies alone. But they are necessary to give the segment a boost in the beginning. Or, as Lorraine Yan, CEO of Shenzhen BYD Daimler New Technology Co. Ltd, the manufacturer of the Denza brand of EVs, said at Denza’s presser, though the EV sector can’t depend on government policy alone, or forever, the segment is like a toddler and the incentives are helping it learn to walk.
If there was a theme at the show, beyond EVs, SUVs and luxury cars (both separately and as one segment i.e. luxury SUVs) it would have been car-sharing, or ride-sharing. I heard those words from numerous automakers, including LeEco/LeSEE, Denza, and BAIC. Well, to be honest I didn’t actually attend the BAIC presser so didn’t hear an executive utter those words. But I personally experience BAIC’s car sharing experiment.
My friend Rob and I rented a BAIC E150 for a few hours the day before the show.BAIC works with a company named YiDuYongChe. Rob has an app that looks a lot like the one used to track your Uber driver on his phone. It tells him where pickup sites for Yidu EVs are located and how many units are available at that site. We found a site near my hotel and Rob reserved the one BAIC E150 remaining.
We descended into the parking garage at a high-rise commercial building and found the EV. Rob used the app to unlock the car and we took off. We decided to drive out to the suburbs to see a battery swapping station that is about to open in the Beijing suburbs.
The station was built by Beijing Dianba New Energy Technology Co. Ltd. with the backing of a taxi company and BAIC. Guys from Dianba were replacing the floor in the battery swap bay when we were there.
We tried to recharge our EV at one of the stations on the site, but they didn’t work.
Good thing we tried them out because the guys there couldn’t get them to work. That would have been embarrassing had it happened on the official launch day which was two days after we visited. Still, it was impressive. And looking online, Dianba seems to have applied for many patents. Now if Beijing, and China, can multiple at least the charging stations 100,000 times.