China battleground for motor firms

  • Business
  • Saturday, 23 Nov 2013

Volkswagen's XL1 Concept car is displayed at the company's booth during the Guangzhou 2013 Auto Show in China's southern city of Guangzhou,Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

GUANGZHOU: German motor giants Volkswagen AG, BMW and Daimler see China’s future as being electric – encouraged by generous government subsidies – but that bet puts them at odds with some of their Asian rivals.

While the Europeans were heralding the all-electric vehicle at the Guangzhou auto show this week, Toyota Motor and Honda Motor were unveiling hydrogen fuel cell cars at shows in Tokyo and Los Angeles.

The two Japanese heavyweights plan to start selling their hydrogen vehicles in 2015, brushing off electric technology as being good enough only to power tiny city cars.

One of the most ambitious in betting on electric cars in China, the world’s largest auto market, is Volkswagen. On the eve of the Guangzhou show, Volkswagen said its brands, including Volkswagen and Audi, planned to launch a total of more than 15 near-all-electric plug-in cars by 2018.

“We forecast high volumes in this area,” Jochem Heizmann, head of Volkswagen Group China, told reporters this week.

The rush into all-electric cars comes as Beijing ramps up a programme to put five million new energy vehicles – defined as all-electric battery vehicles and heavily electrified “near all-electric” plug-in hybrids – on the road by 2020.

China this year expanded the definition of new energy cars to include fuel cell cars. The two concepts have polarised the industry.

Fuel cell cars can run up to five times longer than their all-electric counterparts, but come with a heftier price tag. But unlike electric vehicles which can be recharged from home as well as charging stations, fuel cell cars must stop at refilling stations.

The hydrogen stations are costly to build, at about US$6mil apiece. — Reuters

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