Last year eight states in the U.S. signed a Memorandum of Understanding calling for cooperation among the states, and alliances with the private sector to speed up deployment of plug-in electric and fuel cell vehicles in their states. The goal is 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles, or ZEVs, on the road by 2025.
The plan works with carrots rather than sticks. There are not quotas, rather the state governments are buying PEVs themselves, offering rebates to buyers, and building charging infrastructure. The Beijing Municipal government is studying that cooperative model, especially California’s measures to promote ZEVs, Yunshi Wang, China Center director at the University of Davis Institute of Transportation Studies told me recently.  “They want be China’s California,” says Wang.

The Beijing Municipal government is already working to expand the use of new energy vehicles in its borders. New Energy Vehicles refers to plug-in electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles. But things aren’t moving quickly enough, apparently. The Beijing government wants to make raise the profile of its NEV plan by linking with California, says Wang.

California accounts for more around 40 percent of all plug-in electric vehicles purchased in the United States. That is partly because its citizens tend to be more “green” than those in many other states. But those tendencies are magnified by state policies supporting ZEV ownership and requiring automakers who sell cars in the state to produce and sell ZEVs here.

Those policies often come out of the California Air Resources Board, usually referred to as CARB. It is a high-level state government body that works on improving California’s air quality. The Institute for Transportation Studies at UC Davis works closely with CARB. In China, a similar role is played by the China Automotive Technical Research Center, or CATARC, located in Tianjin, a coastal city near Beijing.

“CATARC provides intellectual support to the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Information Industry Technology,” says Wang. The UC Davis Institute for Transportation Studies China Center at UC Davis works closely with CATARC. Indeed, in September the ITS and CATARC signed an agreement to help speed the commercialization of PEVs and fuel-cell vehicles.

CATARC also suggests to the central government some new ideas for developing the new energy vehicle segment, he says.
For example, the Tesla-inspired idea of allowing non-automotive companies to produce new energy vehicles originated at CATARC. (Any company in China wanting to produce vehicles of any kind requires a permit from the National Development and Reform Commission.) “Existing automakers, especially plug-in vehicle makers, are strongly opposed,” says Wang.

CATARC is also promoting allowing wider usage of low-speed electric vehicles, especially in provinces such as Shandong and Jiangsu, where there are companies that produce LSEVs (especially Shandong, where it is hard to throw a rock without hitting an LSEV maker).
As for the city of Beijing working more closely with California, CATARC is talking with the city’s Science and Technology Commission about it and the Commission is “very positive” about the idea, says Wang.

Beijing vs. California: Okay, they aren’t exactly alike
To be sure, Beijing is unlike California in many ways. The government structure is very different, naturally. And Beijing’s population is not known for being exceptionally green in their thinking (though there are of course greenies in Beijing).

Also, as an attendee at a lunch presentation I gave last month in Hong Kong for Macquarie on China’s NEV sector pointed out, Beijing’s climate is very different from California’s, or at least from Southern and Northern California, where EV ownership is concentrated.

Beijing is much hotter in the summer – making car air conditioning use a necessity if one has it – and winters are much colder ergo heaters are needed. That drains a PEV battery.  But like California, Beijing has set NEV goals. It aims to have 200,000 NEVs on its streets by 2017. Of that, 50,000 will be public vehicles, 150,000 privately-owned. Among the public NEVs will be some 10,000 taxis. Half of mail and sanitation trucks will be NEVs. (This is more aggressive than the central government call for 30 percent.)

Beijing has allocated license plates that will go to NEV owners free of charge, and that bypass the municipality’s registration lottery. Beijing also has its own subsidies on top of the central government subsidies.

So Beijing already has some policies that are similar to California’s, says Wang. But the Chinese city is looking at how California’s policies have been implemented and considering some tweaks to its own, as well as additional perks such as high-occupancy lane stickers to NEV owners and the like.
China’s capital city favors one technology over another – Beijing’s policies are more focused on battery-electric vehicles, says Wang, and perhaps fuel-cell vehicles in the future.

As for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, the municipal government worries that owners of those vehicles are mostly driving on liquid fuel rather than using the battery capacity, says Wang. The lack of a widespread charging infrastructure is seen as the culprit. (This is also a concern of other city governments such as Shanghai. It nonetheless subsidizes PHEVs at near the same rate as BEVs.)

The ITS at UC Davis also aims to work with other cities in China on new energy vehicle policies, says Wang. For example, he wants to work with the Shanghai International Auto City (see my November 5, 2013 on SIAC’s EV efforts) to see how much time the PHEVs there run on pure electricity, who is driving and where, and what their expectations are. That will help the government know where to place charging stations, he says.  Adds Wang: “You can’t blame PHEV drivers (for not running on pure electricity). If there is an appropriate charging infrastructure, there will be no problem. You need to provide infrastructure so you don’t force drivers to use the gasoline engine.”


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