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PHEVs in China: An Introduction to Many Players
Jul 15, 2009 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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The roundup below includes the notes for our presentation to a forum, "US-China Cleantech - An Update," that was organized by Jim Hurd, premier networker and founder of GreenScienceExcvhange ("The Entrepreneur's Think and Do Tank"), with help from foreign trade consultant Eugene Chen of Marco Polo Group. It was held July 13 in the San Francisco office of global law firm K&L Gates (which has five offices in China). While not complete, we thought it worth giving our readers a snapshot of the auto industry in this all-important country.

This year, China will overtake the US as the world's biggest automaker. Will it also take the leadership in the race for green vehicles, especially plug-in cars? We don't know yet. We do know two big facts:

The Chinese Association of Auto Manufacturers said on July 9 that China will sell more than 11 million cars this year, 17% more than the 9.3 million last year and ahead of the association's prediction of 10.2 million. Meanwhile, US annualized sales are under 10 million.

The attention-getting fact is that U.S. cars are so thirsty they can't be sold in China. China's average new car gets almost 36 MPG -- that's the level American CAFE requirements see for U.S. cars six years from now, in 2015. By then, China will be over 42 MPG. If they do jump in to plug-in vehicles, their lead will be far greater. (China imports few cars, and puts a tax up to 40% on domestically produced gas-guzzlers.)

And it looks like China is going green as fast as possible. Look at a Harvard Business Review piece about China's emerging environmental priorities at­hbr/­hbreditors/­2009/­07/­hummer_tengzhong_and_the_new_g.html . It links to "Advancing Sustainable Competitiveness of China's Transnational Corporations,"­publications.aspx?id=4074 , in which Long Guoqiang, deputy director of the Development Research Center of China's State Council, and Simon Zadek and Joshua Wickerham of Londono-based Account Ability, echo Thomas Friedman and others in arguing that this is how China will gain global leadership.

A SNAPSHOT OF SOME OF THE KEY AUTOMAKERS AND THEIR PLANS: Today's Chinese automotive market is a complex free-for-all. At the San Francisco forum, Cliff Nakayama from Mostwell International LLC and the US-China Green Energy Council Automotive Task Force, which is holding a series of seminars on PHEVs­en/­activities/­seminar/­transportation1 , described government efforts to consolidate China's fragmented auto industry, with over 100 companies, into a handful of top players through subsidies, rebates and procurement policies. See a February report on the government's "boost" plan at­auto-news/­1009455/­China-aims-to-merge-carmaking-groups-to-10.html . (If, as may be possible, I am able to visit China in October or November, and meet with some of the players, perhaps I can promote plug-in vehicles and return with more insight from insiders.) Meanwhile, here's a research rundown:

  • BYD, evolving from one of the world's largest batterymakers to a carmaker, is the poster-child for China's PHEVs, with several vehicles in development. The F3DM is the first production PHEV to be sold in the world; it's on sale already in China. Last September, the company sold a 10% share to Warren Buffet's MidAmerican Energy Holdings company, and in late May inked a Memorandum of Understanding with Volkswagen for to provide batteries and to work together on "electric mobility." We hope that this will include VW helping BYD advance its designs, especially its vehicles'"fit and finish" (so critical in the U.S. market) so they can begin global automotive sales sooner rather than later. We can only imagine the impact of a PHEV selling in the U.S. for $20-$25,000 minus s$7,500 in tax credits!
  • In a widely publicized development, in early June, GM agreed to sell its Hummer brand to Chengdu-based Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery, which is now in formal discussions with Chinese regulators. GM plans to continue building Hummers on a contract basis at its Shreveport, LA plant. The new company, with little automotive experience, has discussed more efficient models. And as we reported in June at­calcars-news/­1061.html , we do have a recent encouraging precedent in GM providing inside technical information and a new small engine to Raser Technologies to convert an H3 to a series PHEV.
  • Fiat has a 50-50 joint venture with Guangzhou Automobile Group (which has previously partnered with Isuzu, Honda and Toyota) to build vehicles that meet the Chinese government's requirement for fuel-efficient, low-emission vehicles. Fiat's planned joint venture with Chery fell apart. It looks like that this partnership will make aerodynamic CVs (combustion vehicles), initially for sale only in China, but eventually perhaps for export, including, via the Chrysler connection, to the U.S.
  • Chery, the largest independent automaker, has shown several EVs that it says may arrive in 2010. Johnson Controls-SAFT may provide batteries.
  • Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation, which has partnered primarily with GM but also with Volkswagen in the past, expects to sell hybrids in 2010 and EVs between then and 2012. Johnson Controls-SAFT may provide batteries.
  • Geely Holding Group has shown a concept plug-in sedan. Geely and Ford have both denied that they are in discussions about Volvo, which has been advancing its concept cars toward a 2012 PHEV.
  • Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Co. remains in contention to buy GM's Opel decision, which is currently expected to be sold to a consortium led by Canadian integrator and parts supplier Magna International, backed by two Russian companies, the state-controlled lender Sberbank Rossia and auto maker OAO GAZ Group. GM has said it is not concerned about possible competition in China from Opel for GM sales. (For plug-ins, Opel is developing the Ampera, the diesel version of the Chevy Volt.)
  • Donfeng Motor Company, formerly Second Automobile works, based in Wuhan, has a joint venture with Netherlands-based Detroit Electric Holdings (reviving an EV name from the early 20th century), to build EVs in China; Detroit Electric plans to build the same vehicles in Malaysia with Proton for sale in Europe and the U.S.
  • Hafei Auto Group (Harin HF), a recently established consortium, is partnering with a new Southern California startup, Coda, spun out of Miles EV, to build in China a $45,000 EV for sale the U.S. Coda has a management team from the US high-tech world and the international auto industry, and many auto industry and EV veterans among its directors and advisors,
  • Shenzhen Goch Investment is investing $15 million in a joint venture with Phoenix-based ECOtality to build and distributed charging stations in China. (The recent Pike Research report sees a $1.9 billion market in charging equipment by 2015, with almost half coming from China.)

In Monday'sWall Street Journal, former Intel CEO Andy Grove, who remains a strong advocate for plug-in vehicles, as well as conversion of already-built gas-guzzlers, has a piece about the US auto industry and Washington titled " What Detroit Can Learn From Silicon Valley"­article/­SB124744046341629787.html It compares US efforts aimed primarily at saving automotive jobs with Chinese industrial policies to focus especially on battery manufacturing; he concludes, "Which is the better investment strategy? It is too early to say... .The strategic bets being placed by each country may determine which one will end up as the world's leader in automotive technology and manufacturing."

Finally, we've been very gratified to see the recognition of the pioneering role of Feng An, who has been working for over a decade to connect U.S. and Chinese organizations and advance low-carbon cars in China. We first met him in 2004, when we brought our first converted Prius to Michigan.In a broad NY Times review of the Chinese industry­2009/­05/­28/­business/­energy-environment/­28fuel.html, veteran journalist Keith Bradshear describes this founder of the Innovation Center for Energy and Transportation in Beijing­en/­home_en.html as "leading architect of China's existing fuel economy regulations."

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