New alternative power vehicles are making driving and living in Beijing easier for those who switch

By He Keyao Source:Global Times Published: 2018/1/3 17:08:40

The number of electric recharging piles in Beijing is increasing, allowing people to easily find one to use in town. Photo: Li Hao/GT


The battery technology in the electric auto industry is developing and upgrading very quickly, expert says. Photo: Li Hao/GT

It's another working day. Li Honglin, who has been working in Beijing for years, gets up early and is ready to leave her house for another commute to the office. It is not a long journey, but Li has to drive since there is not a metro stop nearby. Her new car is parked downstairs, and unlike before, she no longer needs to worry about the odd and even plate number traffic control or whether her original non-Beijing plate number will cause her to get a fine. For her, life has become easier since she purchased an electric car.

Electric cars have seen rapid sales growth in the past year. According to a recent report by Qdaily, a leading news app in China, there were around 20,000 people driving electric cars in 2014 in Beijing, and in 2017, there were more than 200,000 applicants queued up for an electric car plate number. It is reported that BAIC Group, one of the largest auto companies in China, will stop selling traditional oil-fueled cars by 2020. The rapid growth reflects a huge demand and an increasing acceptance of the alternative vehicles in metropolises in China.

Pushed in the right direction

"It's difficult to get a Beijing car plate for traditional vehicles; an electric car is the best solution so far," Li said. Due to the strict control on applications for plate numbers in Beijing, Li has been using a non-Beijing plate number for a long time and suffered from a series of traffic controls and restrictions. For example, she cannot drive into the Fifth Ring Road during rush hours, which is exactly when she commutes to and from work.

"I was often caught while driving to work because of plate problems, and that caused me to have points deducted from my license. Buying an electric car was a forced choice," said Li. 

In order to encourage the use of alternative vehicles, electric cars do not need to follow the same traffic control protocols as oil-fueled vehicles. Moreover, people who apply for electric car plates do not have to participate in the license-plate lottery in Beijing, but instead, they must queue for ensured plates. There are around 60,000 plate numbers each year for electric cars, while the chance of getting a plate number for a traditional car is 0.117 percent, according to Qdaily.

"Now I can drive anytime and anywhere without restrictions, and the experience of using a new-energy vehicle is not that bad at all," said Li.

With faster auto start and acceleration, a quieter engine and more smart phone controlled functions, Li's new car quickly won her heart. As for recharging, she normally goes to the public recharging pile near her apartment once a week and the process takes about an hour. The car can run around 400 kilometers after being fully recharged. "It's quite convenient. I just use the time to have a weekend brunch, and then the car is fully recharged when I return," said Li.

She has also found that charging locations are increasing in number as she is constantly checking an app on her phone. It's reported by that there are more than 12,000 public recharging piles in Beijing and the number is expected to increase.

After driving her electric car for six months, she found herself losing interest in traditional vehicles.

"It is like using an iPhone when everyone else is using a Nokia," she said. The strong sense of technology and the environment-friendly concept further boost her driving experience.

Better quality of life

For some, an electric car improves the quality of life for the whole family. Pan Yan, who has worked in Beijing for years and recently bought her first electric vehicle, is one of them.

"We have been participating in the license lottery for too many years, and a private vehicle has become a must since we have a child now," Pan said. Seeing more and more of her friends begin to use electric cars, she went to visit an auto retailer and found huge technological improvements to the vehicles compared with the past.

"For some, the mileage is fine, the battery is OK and the price is reasonable, so I decided to switch to an electric car almost immediately."

She submitted the application in March and got the plate number six months later and then she finally purchased the car in November.

Now the family often drives out of town for short trips, giving their child more time to get close to nature and out of the congested city. Though the electric vehicle cannot go as far in one trip as a traditional car, it meets the family's needs. "The farthest we go on the weekend is Miyun and Huairou, and an electronic car can totally handle that. For occasional long-distance trips, we take the high-speed train or rent an oil-fueled vehicle," said Pan.

Moreover, the electric car makes driving simpler and more comfortable and does not have petrol fumes, so their child no longer suffers from car sickness. And electricity consumption is much cheaper than oil, which also adds value. After driving for more than 1,200 kilometers, Pan is very satisfied with the experience.

Pan strongly feels that the trend toward electronic cars will continue to grow. In fact, she has already experienced the popularity as she applied for a second electric car number later in 2017 when she found the queue was getting so long that she would not be able to get one until the year 2020.

Not without drawback

However, it doesn't mean that choosing an electric vehicles goes without drawbacks. Compared with traditional vehicles, the technology of an electric car is still new, and there are obvious disadvantages in certain aspects. Acknowledging all the good sides mentioned by Li and Pan, Feng Yuan, who has been diving an electric car for 10 months, summarized some key drawbacks of alternative vehicles.  

Firstly, the miles you can drive on a charged battery is short compared with traditional cars. The longest available mileage on the market is around 400-500 kilometers, aid Feng. Secondly, the price for an electric vehicle is higher than traditional ones of the same model and brand. Take Geely Auto EV 300 for example. The factory price is more than 200,000 yuan ($30,730) and the market price stands at 140,000 yuan once the subsidy from the government and the company is deducted. However, the same model of oil-fueled automobiles are sold at 60,000 to 80,000 yuan.

"Spending the same amount of money, you can buy a much better oil-fueled car with a much higher range of mileage. If not for the sake of the plate number, I probably would go for a traditional vehicle," said Feng.

Moreover, the battery powers down quickly during the winter since lithium batteries cannot resist the cold, which further shortens the mileage and increases the frequency of recharging. The problem gets worse when the temperature declines.

Feng said the consumed electricity increases from 13 kw/100 km to 20 kw/100 km and the consumption gets even faster when the air conditioning is on. The battery problem in cold weather from Feng's observations also echoes Li's and Pan's experiences.

Additionally, the recharging process is time-consuming, especially when you need to wait in queue for a public electric charging station, and recharging pile construction is not developed across the country.

"Once we drove from Beijing to Qinhuangdao, Hebei Province, and it took us six hours for the 300-kilometer journey. We spent a lot of time looking for recharging spots on the way." Feng found it hard to find usable recharging piles outside of town, and some piles did not match their car or work at all. The experience makes her anxious when driving out of the city.

Pan agreed with Feng. She said there are still not enough charging spots in the city, as it's often seen that traditional cars take the spaces assigned for electric cars to recharge. 

Further development on the horizon

Immature as it might be, the electric auto market is rocketing. Fang Lei, brand communication manager from BYD AUTO, one of the leading domestic electric car brands and the largest electric car manufacturer in the world, said the trend is vividly seen from statistics.

"The sales of alternative cars grew rapidly in 2017, especially for the second half of the year. Take this November for example, the total sales in the country were 81,000, which is an 87 percent increase year on year based on statistics by China Passenger Car Association (CPCA)," said Fang, stressing that the industry will lead the future of automobiles and has great room for development with a series of preferable policies.

Zheng Jiatu, deputy managing director of the China Electric Vehicle Charging Technology and Industry Alliance, agreed, and said the industry holds a brighter prospect than traditional gasoline and diesel cars.

"The market for electronic vehicles is much bigger and change is a must, not only for environmental improvement but for a more balanced energy supply nationwide."

Zheng points out that the move to push for more electric cars has strategic meaning in the long run and diversified forms of energy consumption can help reduce the country's reliance on traditional fuels. It is predicted that there will be more electric cars than oil-fueled vehicles on the streets in China by 2030, he said.

As for whether the purchase of alternative cars is a forced choice, Zheng holds a more optimistic view. He said the shortage of plate numbers for traditional cars might be an extra factor to make the purchase for some people. However, they will soon realize the benefits of their new cars once they have them.

Meanwhile, Fang empathized that the choice is not "forced" at all for quite a number of customers.

"BYD AUTO has taken 70 percent of the middle-to-high-end market priced from 130,000 yuan to 300,000 in the first 10 months in 2017, and more than 50 percent of our sales were from smaller cities where there is no purchase limit," said Fang.

He believes that a better battery will hit the market in the near future, and the "mileage anxiety" will be solved soon given the fast pace of the industry and technology development.

Newspaper headline: Electric is in


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