China Forging Ahead on Clean Vehicles

On Wednesday, April 1st (no, it's not an April Fools Day prank), the New York Times reported that China has adopted a plan that will make them one of the world's leaders in electric and hybrid car production. Set on a highly ambitious trajectory of just three years, China hopes to turn the market on its head and push forward with these new technologies, leapfrogging the gasoline engine that was essential to many other nations' development, and instead heading straight into the next phase of transportation at the vanguard of the industry.

One doesn't have to be a scientist to recognize how replacing gasoline-powered vehicles with hybrids or electric cars will go a long way on the path to reducing China's carbon footprint and helping stem global climate change, though much still needs to be done to reduce China's reliance on coal for three-quarters of its electricity production. It is a responsible solution and shows vision on the part of Chinese leaders, who are determined not to repeat history by moving into the next phase of economic development with outdated technology.

I have seen the determination and vision of Chinese vehicle technology experts first hand. NRDC began collaborating with Tongji University nearly ten years ago to promote the development and commercialization of clean vehicles, and with our help, Tongji established a Clean Vehicles Technology Center in 2002. The first head of the Center was Dr. Wan Gang, who at that time was a vehicles expert just returned from overseas, and who now, as the article explains, is China's Minister of Science and Technology. The Center now has a state-of-the-art lab that, among other things, developed China's first fuel-cell cars, 20 of which recently served the Beijing Olympics. But even as far back as a decade ago, when much of China was struggling to develop its own vehicle manufacturing capability, these visionary engineers were intent on leapfrogging past the internal combustion engine. And now they are leading the way.

Japan currently holds the title of leader in the hybrid and alternative vehicle market and GM is scheduled to release their Volt sometime next year. Still, there is a lot of space in the market for China to come in and make a splash. As the NYT article suggests, though the price tag is high, the road ahead is paved with gold.