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Chinese Car Makers Bid for World Lead in New Energy Vehicles Sector

Exhibitors and buyers at Guangzhou's New Energy Automobile (NEA) Industry Expo seem convinced that environmentally friendly vehicles are now the future, with technology, consumer preference and government all nurturing the sector.

Photo: NEA China 2015: A new emphasis on new energy.
NEA China 2015: A new emphasis on new energy.
Photo: NEA China 2015: A new emphasis on new energy.
NEA China 2015: A new emphasis on new energy.

The New Energy Automobile (NEA) Industry Expo 2015 attracted a substantial turnout of exhibitors and buyers from around the world, including visitors from Canada, Russia, Germany, the UK, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Taiwan. A number of leading manufacturers, notably SAIC, Dongfeng Nissan and JAC Motors, also took the opportunity to exhibit their new energy vehicles, many of which featured new technological innovations designed to meet growing market demand and tougher government regulation.

According to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), China produced 9,060 new energy vehicles in April 2015, up 150% year-on-year. The output of new energy cars during January-April 2015 was 34,400 units, nearly three times the production volume for the same period in 2014.

Cutting Fuel Consumption

Photo: SAIC’s Roewe 550 Plug-in.
SAIC's Roewe 550 Plug-in.
Photo: SAIC’s Roewe 550 Plug-in.
SAIC's Roewe 550 Plug-in.

Chinese car manufacturers are under ever-increasing pressure to improve fuel efficiency. The Phase IV Passenger Vehicle Fuel Consumption Standards, issued by the MIIT on 26 January this year, stated that new passenger cars, whether domestically made or imported, need to lower their fuel consumption level to 6.9 L/100 km in 2015, with further efficiency gains required to hit a proposed target of 5 L/100 km by 2020.

Several of the cars on show at the exhibition are already capable of beating the tough 2020 target. The SAIC Motor Corporation Limited, headquartered in Shanghai, for instance, claimed that the combined fuel consumption of its 2015 Roewe 550 Plug-in model is as low as 1.6 L/100 km. At the 2014 Challenge Bibendum, the Roewe 550 Plug-in beat several international carmakers, such as BMW, Daimler and PSA Peugeot Citroën, to take first place in the hybrid group for its performance in handling, power, acceleration, braking and energy efficiency. The smaller Roewe E50 also took the top award in the pure electric category.

According to Xu Feng, Director of SAIC's new energy vehicle division, the E50 features a space saving 'one box' design, rather than the traditional three-box layout (engine – cabin – boot) of most cars and uses several types of eco-friendly materials. It can cover 120 km on a single charge or up to 180 km cruising at an average speed of 60 km/h.

The petrol/electric hybrid engine of Roewe's 550 Plug-in can run in pure electric, series-hybrid, parallel-hybrid and self-regenerating modes to optimise its power and fuel consumption.

Photo: The JAC iEV5 on display.
The JAC iEV5 on display.
Photo: The JAC iEV5 on display.
The JAC iEV5 on display.

Dongfeng Nissan, based in Wuhan, chose to only showcase its pure electric vehicles at the show. Compared with SAIC's emphasis on fuel performance, Dongfeng Nissan opted instead for a greater focus on the quality of its fuel cells.

Dongfeng Nissan's Venucia uses a stacked laminated manganese-based lithium-ion battery for power. This compact and lightweight cell can power the vehicle for up to 175 km on a single charge. Performance is also relatively good, taking 4.4 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 50 km/h and with a top speed of 144 km/h.

Hefei-based manufacturer, JAC, showed its iEV5, a pure electric vehicle at the event. The claimed 240 km range on a single charge is due to its 'ternary' lithium-ion battery. The car has as many as six charging modes, offering a choice of faster or slower battery replenishment.

Chinese Carmakers Bid to Take Leda in Electric Sector

Many domestic carmakers have focussed their efficiency efforts on cutting out the need for fossil fuels altogether. As an under-developed technology, compared to petrol, diesel and hybrid drive, a number of domestic carmakers see the niche as an opportunity to gain a technical advantage over western and Japanese brands.

SAIC, with its production base in Shanghai's Lingang, is the largest auto company listed on China's A-shares market, with a total of 11 billion shares issued. According to Xu Feng, Roewe 550 Plug-in and Roewe E50 took the company five years to develop, with both models mainly targetting the domestic market at present. According to Xu Feng, the 2013 Roewe 550 Plug-in sold 500 units during its first month, rising to 1,500 sales in the following month, an outcome that exceeded the company's expectations.

According to the website of The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, SAIC has devoted a lot of manpower and material resources to developing new energy vehicles over recent years. The result is that it is now intellectual property leader with regard to pure electric, hybrid and fuel cells.

The company sold a total of 1,454 new energy cars in the first quarter of 2015, with Roewe 550 Plug-in contributing the bulk of this. SAIC now plans to launch a new model of alternative energy vehicle each year, while expanding its array of new energy products from the current A0 class to B class and from sedans to SUVs. It hopes to hit the target of selling 1 million units by 2020, with sales of new energy vehicles accounting for 15-20% of this figure.

JAC, founded in 1999, was a relative latecomer to this sector, starting its development of pure electric vehicles in 2009. Wang Xue is Head of New Energy Vehicles at Shiruida, JAC's authorised Guangzhou dealership. He says that JAC only presented pure electric vehicles at the show as the traditional car market is already saturated, while vehicles using traditional fuel are posing serious environmental problems. He believes new energy vehicles should have great market prospects, given the government's emphasis on the sector.

Photo: Dongfeng Nissan’s Venucia stand.
Dongfeng Nissan's Venucia stand.
Photo: Dongfeng Nissan’s Venucia stand.
Dongfeng Nissan's Venucia stand.
Photo: A potential buyer considers the Venucia.
A potential buyer considers the Venucia.
Photo: A potential buyer considers the Venucia.
A potential buyer considers the Venucia.

Dongfeng Nissan, by comparison, was founded in 2003, as joint enterprise with Japan's Nissan. As with JAC, its Venucia marque concentrates on pure electric vehicles.

In the view of Liu Yi, Head of Marketing for the company's direct sales store, new energy vehicles are the future, particularly with more and more Chinese cities imposing car registration and purchase restrictions in an effort to combat environmental pollution. The government's strong support will also play a key role. Liu believes that consumers will be more willing to buy these vehicles when better charging arrangements are in place.

Guangzhou South Electric Power Science and Technology Development Co Ltd (KGE) specialises in charging equipment and solutions and the company presented three of its charging systems at NEA China 2015. The number of charging 'piles' already deployed (and soon to be installed) by KGE is reflective of the bright prospects of China's future new energy vehicle market, according Chen Guanlin, Sales Engineer of the firm's South China regional marketing centre.

Charging and Safety

Some consumers are said to be put off buying pure electric vehicles due to their reliance on slow-charging batteries, as well as relatively short range compared to fossil fuel-powered cars. Many of the ,manufacturers of new energy vehicles at the expo did their best to address this problem, as well as focussing on the safety concerns around this still-developing technology.

SAIC's Xu Feng placed great faith in Roewe's safety and reliability. The Roewe 550 Plug-in has high-voltage supply of up to 300V (compared to 220V standard domestic voltage) and SAIC has adopted a multiple security strategy for its protection, including over-voltage cut-off and insulation resistance monitoring. Xu added that the two Roewe models can be charged using manufacturer-supplied cables if the quality of the home plug is up to standards, with a full charge taking 4-6 hours.

Photo: Senior-friendly mobility.
Senior-friendly mobility.
Photo: Senior-friendly mobility.
Senior-friendly mobility.
Photo: The Henan Longrui New Energy Automobile Co Ltd.
The Henan Longrui New Energy Automobile Co Ltd.
Photo: The Henan Longrui New Energy Automobile Co Ltd.
The Henan Longrui New Energy Automobile Co Ltd.

The car's watertight battery box is claimed to be the world's best security system and is IP67-certified for dust and water resistance. It will remain watertight for one hour when submerged to a depth of 1-2 metres. The battery is placed at the back of the car and is said to have passed numerous crash tests.

By comparison, Venucia places the battery in the middle of the car, both for improved crash-protection and to achieve better weight distribution between the front and rear axles, which also improves handling. According to Liu Yi, Venucia's battery is completely enclosed in a protective box, stacked like pieces of the Rubik's cube. The car can even still run safely without power leakage when the battery is submerged.

According to Wang Xue of JAC's Guangzhou dealer, Shiruida, customers could simply use a 220V home outlet to charge their iEV5. It takes an hour to charge to 80% and 2.5 hours to complete a fast charge, while a normal slow charge takes about eight hours.

Some manufacturers recommended the use of dedicated charging piles, as these are safe and convenient to use. KGE, for instance, presented its wall-mounted charging station for homes at the show.

Photo: SAIC Maxus on show.
SAIC Maxus on show.
Photo: SAIC Maxus on show.
SAIC Maxus on show.
Photo: KGE’s wall-mounted charging pile.
KGE's wall-mounted charging pile.
Photo: KGE’s wall-mounted charging pile.
KGE's wall-mounted charging pile.

This model is compact in size, measuring only 52 x 20 x 38 cm. The company's hardware engineer, Tan Yewei, said KGE can make charging piles according to client specifications, with both 32 amp and 16 amp charging piles safe for home use. The piles have lightning and leakage protection and can monitor the power plug in real-time when charging. The charger will automatically cut the circuit in case of accidents.

Customers can locate the nearest KGE's public charging pile through a smartphone app developed by the company, as well as checking the pile's availability status.

Also displayed at the show were mobility vehicles for seniors, sun shields, hi-fi systems, lubricants and other auto accessories.

The 6th China (Guangzhou) International New Energy Automobile Industry Expo (NEA China 2015) took place at the Pazhou Poly World Trade Expo Centre in Guangzhou on 16th-18th May.

Xing Bin, Special Correspondent, Guangzhou

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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