I visited Shanghai EDrive on October 24 as part of the Clean Truck and Bus Forum, sponsored in part by CalStart. The visit confirmed what I had heard about EDrive from industry sources; it is a well-run company. The visit also confirmed my and many others’ suspicions that the growth of the electric vehicle sector in China will fall far short of the government’s goals, at least for the next few years. The most recent New Energy Vehicle policy, which incentivizes commercial vehicles more generously than non-commercial vehicles will also result in a lopsided growth pattern. But that is not necessarily a bad thing.
The building, on the outskirts of Shanghai, looks like all the other white-grey multi-story buildings in the industrial zone. Inside are clean rooms for manufacturing electronic controls and less-spotless but still clean rooms for the permanent magnet motors themselves.
We were greeted and given an introduction and tour by Dr. Zhang Zhouyun, vice general manager and senior engineer. EDrive has been growing like gangbusters since its establishment in 2008, with staff increasing 30-50% annually, he said. It has devoted 20% of its budget to R&D each year and holds 10 patents in China as well as many overseas patents. In 2013 EDrive aims for 400 million RMB in sales.
Interestingly, it seems EDrive sees the market for mini BEVs taking off much more quickly than that for larger vehicles. Not low-speed BEVs, but those able to achieve higher speeds than the 25 mph or so LSEVs are typically capable of. Some 180,000 units will be produced in China in 2014, EDrive figures. The company aims to supply 28% of that market, or 50,000 units.
Shandong is currently conducting a test project with such mini electric vehicles, says Dr. Zhang. Shandong already dominates China’s low-speed electric vehicle production; it seems Shandong figures that expertise can be leveraged into higher speed models.
Chery and Geely are two companies that are planning volume production of the mini-BEVs, says Dr. Zhang. Some domestic manufacturers are testing in-wheel motors on the mini EVs, he says.
As for passenger car PHEVs, five or six companies plan to produce them starting in 2015 and EDrive has contracts with some, including FAW and Chery. But the EDrive folks seemed to think the production levels would be very low. They will mainly be test vehicles.
The big growth in NEVs over the next few years, as EDrive CEO Dr. Gong mentioned in our interview, is commercial vehicles, the EDrive guys confirmed.
So, an interesting visit to a company that should do well if the Central government sticks to its guns and enforces the latest NEV plan. But even at EDrive, an admission that all those announcements about NEV passenger cars are mainly for show and that volumes will be quite small for at least the next few years. Still, as I mentioned up top, the new policy’s focus on commercial vehicles/fleets is a good thing. Applications are more apparent and with volume production some breakthroughs, or at least cost reduction on some components, should be possible.
Article by Alysha Webb, a freelance automotive journalist and founder of ChinaEV Blog.