By Steve Dalton
COURTESY WASHINGTON POST
When the Chinese government launched its golden goose in electric vehicles, Beijing anticipated that billions of dollars in new battery production in the country would boost its domestic auto industry to new heights. The plan worked: Chinese EV maker BYD first brought an EV on sale to the United States, and last year another Chinese manufacturer, BAIC, showcased an EV in its dealership in Paris.
From Germany’s woes to a Japanese wave, it’s time to see if Beijing’s investment, like the Sea Monkeys in a classic novel, is on course to crash down on the international auto industry.
Go with the magnetic-drive and get a motor (or two) hurtling at 150 mph
A lot of people saw this kind of electricity in a Ford Focus EV that just went on sale in China. “It’s really quite dramatic,” said Sam Abuelsamid, an analyst at Navigant Research. In the U.S., Ford already has six motors available for electric cars.
The small car is designed to give Chinese automakers a rare competitive advantage as their governments ramp up incentives for electric-car purchases. The motors come from Johnson Controls, a Fortune 500 company that is better known as a maker of lighting fixtures and air conditioners.
Ford officials have declined to say exactly what electric motors it will use in its vehicles, but battery-charging holes on the back of the car suggest an electric motor is powering the motor.
Put the batteries on the wheels and get a pedal-less car going
And China is late to the electric-vehicle party, for several reasons. Battery capacities are too small and quick charging cables are too few and bulky. Batteries are also too expensive, prices of which have hovered around $1,000 to $1,200 apiece over the past decade. But things are starting to change. Saft, a joint venture between Continental and battery maker Sany, has provided over 100,000 batteries for electric cars since 2010. The company hopes to do a million batteries a year by 2015. Also at the consortium are BMW, Alstom, and other companies.
“This is a technology that is practical and available,” said a company spokeswoman. “To the extent this [electrification] is going to increase, there are also elements of charge time, etc.”
There is another way to keep an electric car going…
… By putting more of them on the road!
China’s government has created a global market in alternative energy vehicles, and that’s putting pressure on the international automakers. Some tried to ride out the times, as General Motors did with its Chevrolet Volt. But China has just lined up billions of dollars to support new battery production, leading some international automakers to follow suit. China’s leading EV maker, BYD, last year showed off a plug-in electric sedan in a Paris showroom. It had recently announced that it would soon release a joint venture electric taxi in Beijing.
A New York Times report on the project included a quote from the head of Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz Vans unit, who was furious about China’s efforts. “We want to be here first,” he said. “So do the others, because I do not see any way back.”
With a quick fix for charging holes, an old-fashioned motor and only a few big wheels to make it stick to the pavement, you don’t need a fuel tank to go far
GM, Ford and other global car makers were interested in hybrid technology because it gave them a stronger position when dealing with regulators in Europe and Japan. And it was a potentially huge source of profit.
But with electric cars, Europe and Japan are turning out to be topless milk bags. In the United States, government programs to buy electric cars haven’t included sales of plug-in vehicles. Automakers are increasingly frustrated at having to run electrical cables with giant lithium-ion batteries. At first, the solution was small electric motors. With help from Johnson Controls, most Chinese automakers now produce massive motors for their electric cars. Nissan and SAIC unveiled the Vmotion Z last year, which produces 550 horsepower and can go from zero to 60 mph in about four seconds.