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Clean Cars Made in China: a Look at China’s Low-Emission Car Industry

By • Apr 25th, 2009 • Category: Clean Car Talk Posts

Editor’s note: This is the first of a series of articles peeking into clean car industries and car manufacturers of China, India, South Korea and Germany. Please send comments and suggestions using our Contact page or by leaving a comment at the end of this article.

China is becoming a force to reckon with in the auto industry, and I’m not talking about the huge potential number of car-buying consumers. I’m talking about China’s car manufacturing industry. And specifically clean, low-emission cars.

BYD F3DM plug-in hybrid car. Image courtesy BYD.Recently, China has adopted new measures to boost its car industry, especially in the clean car arena, despite the global economic crisis. Chinese-made cars started to receive much attention in recent major auto shows. It took China some time to jump on the bandwagon, but now that it has set its goals, the way forward seems quite clear. And with China in on the game, it would only be a matter of time before China flexes all of its muscles to provide clean cars for the rest of the world, and in so doing, change the world’s transportation industry.

In 2006, China became the third largest automobile manufacturer in the world behind only to Japan and the United States. Currently it has the second largest automobile market in the world, following only behind the U.S. It will be only a matter of time before many million more Chinese consumers can afford cars of their own. The car population was last recorded at 19 million back in 2005. Now, the car industry has set its sights on developing not just cars, but environment-friendly cars. And when such promise can be harnessed to promote environmental safety, changes are sure to come.

Getting in the Game

China is one of the leading pollution emitters in the world, right alongside the United States. Fortunately, because of its sheer size, it also has the best potential to make a big difference fast when it comes to low-emission automobile development. China has a strong eco-friendly legislation system and has a growing automobile market with capital investments to spare for the development of low-emissions vehicles. China’s market also has a global reach, which means that if China starts coming out with eco-friendly vehicles, the vehicles are sure to be affordable, much like most other Chinese exports. Aside from that, the Chinese government is also quite willing to invest and commit resources to the clean car technology.

BYD E6 all-electric car. Photo courtesy BYD.China has never been known to be a leader in quality car manufacturing. The quantity may have been there, but quality would be lacking. It was only in 2001 that China decided to prioritize its clean car research and development industry, particularly the creation of fuel cell cars, hybrid cars, and electric cars. This was already after the year 2000, when Japan already had thousands of electric cars. During the same year, the United States was setting long-term goals and Europe has invested a lot of money on fuel cell buses. But since China decided to take on this road, it had no problem catching up. Before long, the country’s clean car industry was creeping ahead the countries that sparked its motivation to create clean cars in the first place.

Developing Clean Vehicles

Clean cars come in different types, mostly in the form of electric cars, fuel cell cars, and hybrid cars. Electric cars run purely on battery power and are known for their zero emission rates though they are only ideal in specific driving circumstances. Fuel cell cars, on the other hand, runs on hydrogen fuel with byproduct being heat and water. Hybrid cars employ power from both a rechargeable battery pack and an engine (running on one of various standard fuels) to achieve very high mileage. All three types have the common element of using battery packs to power part or all of their propulsion needs.

It took China around five years to come up with functional models of all three types of cars. Despite China’s slow rise to the challenge, what it does, it does quite well. In fact, its fuel cell car was hailed as one of the most successful among all the fuel cell cars in the Michelin Challenge Bibendum 2006 Paris competition. The car, called the Chao Yue No. 3, brought home four gold awards in total. They have also started using hybrid cars for public transportation and electric cars for export.

The Chuangxin No. 1 fuel cell buses are now being used in seven Chinese cities, including Beijing, Tianjin, Hangzhou, Shenzhen, and Wuhan. The buses are noticeably very quiet and boast of high mileage at about 18.6 thousand miles (30 thousand kilometers) of service.

With these accomplishments China has come a long way to reach its goals, with the main long-term goal being that the cars should reduce emissions by 30% and save gas by 30%. Speeds are expected to be at around 100 miles per hour or mph (160 kilometers per hour or km/h) for cars and 50 mph (80 km/h) for buses.

Chao Yue No. 3 fuel cell car
Chao Yue No. 3 fuel cell car
Chuangxin No. 1 fuel cell bus
Chuangxin No. 1 fuel cell bus

The development in the Chinese clean car industry were led by Dongfeng Electric Car Co., Chery Automobile Co., and a few other leading car manufacturers in China. Some of the development were led by Dr. Yang Yifu, a researcher who worked on the electric car technology in Japan for three years. Going back to his homeland, Dr. Yang Yifu found that the concept of hybrid cars was not well known in the country. In fact, a lot of people in the Chinese car industry were still uncertain about such new idea. Eventually, Chinese car companies got it and  began launching their own thrust into the eco-friendly automobile industry.

Chery Automobile

Chery Auto logoNot long after, the Chinese clean car industry was dubbed as the largest publicly funded development research in history of car manufacturing. Dongfeng brought hybrid buses to the market; Chery has done the same. According to Chery, their research and development is now focused on hybrid power. However, Chery’s hybrid-powered cars are different from other popular hybrid cars such as the Toyota Prius. The Toyota Prius is a high technology hybrid car that saves more gas but is very costly to produce. Chery, on the other hand, is developing mid-range and short-range hybrid cars to lower production costs, while maintaining a faster development cycle and shorter time to market. Chery has released the S18EV, a vehicle that runs on electric battery, promising 93 miles or 150 km range on one charge.

BYD Auto

BYD logoAnother industry leader is BYD Auto, a lithium-ion battery manufacturer and now a revolutionary car company based in Shenzhen, China. BYD , or “Build Your Dreams,” has started to showcase its E6 electric car at major auto shows around the world. The all-electric sedan is set for mass production and is highly promising. The E6 uses a revolutionary ferrous battery designed by its experienced battery engineers. The electric car can drive up to around 249 miles (400 km) on one full battery charge and can reach top speed of 100 mph (160 km/h). The aim, according to BYD executives, is to create an electric car that “people can use like a normal car.” BYD has also come out with the F3DM, yet another revolutionary plug-in hybrid vehicle.

The Government’s Involvement

By the year 2020, about 20% of all cars roaming China are expected to be fuel cell cars, all made in China. If this goal were reached, then China would surpass United States and Japanese car manufacturers in the clean car industry.

To help with such lofty goal, the Chinese government now offers rebates to boost the use of hybrid and electric cars, and public transport fleets are encouraged to buy clean vehicles. The government has also released subsidies reaching up to about $8,000 to all taxi fleets and public transport agencies in thirteen cities China with every low-emission vehicle purchased. Setting up of charging stations for hybrid plug-in cars all over Beijing, Tianjin, and Shanghai is also part of the plan. Finally consumers are being encouraged to buy clean cars, with promises of tax credits to those who cooperate in the move towards clean car use.

The Future

The most important advantage of hybrid and electric cars is their ability to recover energy during slowing or stopping, and store it in battery packs for later reuse. This is called regenerative braking or regen, and it is exactly what makes hybrid and electric cars efficient and attractive: high mpg for hybrid cars or long range per charge for all-electric vehicles. In most Chinese cities, driving is done in relatively low speeds with lots of stop-and-go urban traffic. This presents the perfect environment for these low-emission cars to be more readil accepted and adapted by Chinese drivers.

As successes, challenges and opportunities emerge, China will probably continue to maintain an ambitious course on the future direction of its car industry. Now already in planning are more advanced models of hybrid cars, hydrogen fuel cell cars and electric cars. As its industry tries to fulfill its own consumers’ future need for efficient and affordable cars, China will no doubt look to export its products elsewhere as well.

Other Asian countries are obvious target markets. Next stops: Europe and America.

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is a marketing communications consultant working in the San Diego area. Cuong is dedicated to helping individuals and companies maximize their presence on the Internet and efficiently take products and services to market through SEO and network marketing. Cuong also maintains a blog on Marketing at You can also find Cuong Huynh's profile on LinkedIn. For fun he maintains a blog on Vietnamese pho, soccer and do storyboards for movie and film projects. Follow Cuong on Twitter @CuongHuynh, @LovingPho, @CleanCarTalk, @BlockbusterFilm, @SoccerUSA.
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