Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Green and clean car promotions begin to pay dividends

Despite lingering consumer doubts about the technology and practicality of electric vehicles, the Chinese government and automakers are pushing ahead with the development of green cars.

Buyers of hybrid cars, which run on a combination of batteries and conventional engines, are entitled to a direct central government subsidy of 5,000 yuan ($790) per vehicle, while a rebate of up to 60,000 yuan on the purchase price is offered to buyers of battery-driven cars.

Green and clean car promotions begin to pay dividends

New electric cars on display at Jiading Auto City, Shanghai. [Provided to China Daily]

Other than government incentives, auto manufacturers are luring buyers of their alternative cars with free maintenance and a range of personalized services.

Their combined effort to promote greener cars on Chinese roads is beginning to pay off. A survey by the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers showed that 8,159 hybrid and electric cars were sold nationwide in 2011. All together, there are more than 10,000 green cars on China's roads.

The energy conversion rate of electric vehicles in general is 46 percent higher than in internal combustion engine cars, and they have the potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 68 percent, said Raymond Tsang, partner at Bain and Company.

The majority of early converts to green cars are college-educated young professionals in major cities. For instance, Zhao Yu, a 30-year-old office worker at Shanghai International Automobile City, in Jiading, a district of the Shanghai municipality, bought a hybrid car domestically produced by BYD "to show support for my district's reputation as the country's showroom for energy-efficient cars".

Jiading, home to Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (Group), one of China's largest car manufacturers, considers itself a suitable testing ground for popularizing the use of clean cars.

All the promotions were making Zhao feel embarrassed every time she drove her gas-guzzling, pollution-belching, sinister-looking lump of a sedan to work every day. To repent, she spent 160,000 yuan in April last year to buy BYD's new hybrid model, the F3DM, to drive to work and show her eco-friendly credentials.

To her surprise, buying the car has brought benefits that make her feel like a pampered child. For a start, she received close to a 40 percent, or 60,000 yuan, rebate from the central and local governments on the purchase price of her hybrid car. What's more, she was told she could enjoy free battery recharge at stations sprouting in the city, compliments of the Jiading district government.

"I am still getting the hang of owning and driving a hybrid car," she said. But the many incentives have removed any earlier doubts she had about the economic sense of buying one. "I feel like I am one of the chosen few," she said. That feeling, she added, "makes me feel immensely proud of my decision".

Zhao's F3DM can go as far as 150 kilometers in hybrid mode, a range long enough to make the daily round trip from her home to the office and back. "I never need to worry about running out of juice in the middle of nowhere," she said.

In electric power mode, the batteries can sustain up to 90 minutes' driving, or 80 kilometers, before the gas engine takes over. "I only need to recharge the batteries once every day, after I get to work," Zhao said.

The good thing, Zhou added, is that her car is smooth and quiet. What's more, it saves her quite a bit on fuel costs, compared to her other car, which she drives only on weekends.

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