China hastens the world towards an electric-car future

A driver waits for his car to be charged at a station for electric vehicles in Beijing, on Oct 5, 2017. China has become the world's biggest supporter of electric cars.
A driver waits for his car to be charged at a station for electric vehicles in Beijing, on Oct 5, 2017. China has become the world's biggest supporter of electric cars. PHOTO: NYTIMES

SHENZHEN (BLOOMBERG) - There is a powerful reason that carmakers worldwide are speeding up their efforts to develop electric vehicles - and that reason is China.

Propelled by vast amounts of government money and visions of dominating next-generation technologies, China has become the world's biggest supporter of electric cars. That is forcing carmakers from Detroit to Yokohama and Seoul to Stuttgart to pick up the pace of transformation or risk being left behind in the world's largest car market.

Beijing has already called for one out of every five cars sold in China to run on alternative fuel by 2025.

Last month (September), China issued new rules that would require the world's carmakers to sell more alternative-energy cars here if they wanted to continue selling regular ones. A Chinese official recently said the country would eventually do away with the internal combustion engine in new cars.

"We are seeing ourselves at a crossroads in the development of the automobile industry in this country, with a global scale in mind," said Mr Juergen Stackmann, Volkswagen's top executive for VW brand sales and marketing, during a visit to Shanghai.

Already, China is the world's largest maker and seller of electric cars. Chinese buyers are on track to snap up almost 300,000 of them this year, three times the number expected to be sold in the United States and more than the rest of the world combined.

The country's market heft is considerable. China buys more General Motors-branded cars than Americans do. Even for Tesla, the still-small American maker of luxury electric sedans, China has become the second-largest market, even though China's taxes on imported cars are 10 times as high as those in the US. Tesla officials have said they are considering opening a factory in China.

A week ago, GM and Ford unveiled plans to add a combined 33 electric models to their lineups. GM and Volkswagen are also moving much of their research, development and production of electric cars to China.

China is also home to many smaller companies that make the parts essential to assembling electric cars.