Written by By Jango Lopez, CNN
Electric vehicles have taken a major step forward in their ambitious drive to replace fossil-fuel-burning vehicles around the world.
In the past year or so, there have been three electric car models introduced that have enjoyed “breakthrough” years, as they have become radically more affordable, says Steve Goss, managing director of Unirea, a Chinese motor manufacturer.
1 / 11 This hybrid Renault Kangoo Maxx EV was unveiled at the Paris Motor Show, as part of Renault’s plan to introduce at least 10 hybrid vehicles by 2020. Credit: Stephanie Diani/CULTURAL INSPECTOR/REX/Shutterstock
“In Europe, sales of (electric vehicles) are stagnant and, in China, sales have doubled year-on-year,” he told CNN. “China’s electric market is developing fast. China has been on a trajectory to have EVs (electric vehicles) on more roads, although where the uptake is so rapid, that means they are actually being used more.”
China’s electric vehicles market has become a significant force over the past several years. Between January and March of this year, Chinese-based electric and hybrid cars took 60% of all vehicle sales in the country. By 2020, China is targeting sales of 5 million new energy vehicles.
The country’s government has put a large focus on so-called “new energy vehicles,” establishing infrastructure to support the technology in both new towns and existing towns, and also installing charging points.
With Europe and other countries moving away from diesel and petrol cars and using measures to stop countries from dumping older vehicles onto the market, this trend could go in a new direction, says David Gill, associate professor of sustainable development at the University of Warwick.
First Gigafactory of its kind to focus on electric cars
The “electric pinch point” may be coming, he tells CNN. One of the reasons government bodies are moving towards electric cars is because they are cleaner. This approach has its limits, however, as the increase in use of electric cars means emissions are high.
“The incentive to put out a kilowatt-hour of electricity is very low,” he says.
1 / 14 Unirea’s Genia is a low-cost, clean-fueled hybrid in production since 2016. Credit: Unirea
He notes that since 2010, sales of electric vehicles are likely to peak around 2030, just as the population and economy of many countries (particularly in Europe) are expected to peak.
“We have that moment where we might not need electric cars for all of these things,” he says. “Whether we would want an impact on biodiversity, if it were too expensive, or much too energy intensive, we could stop looking at electric cars in that way.”
But electric cars have also had their ups and downs in China, which provides an interesting example of what is ahead as the country grows its use of electric cars and how the government’s approach will play out over the next few years.
Prior to 2009, China supported electric vehicles
In 2009, the Chinese government went into overdrive to promote electric vehicles as part of the country’s shift to a greener economy. By 2012, it had adopted nationwide subsidies for the purchase of EVs.
For five years, these ranged from “10 to 20% on the price of a new EV” — a jump from the 5% offered in 2008 — as well as government-promoted car leasing schemes. The subsidies went up again in 2013, so that in some cases, buyers could get 60% of the cost of an EV.
As a result, according to Goss, China’s EV market ballooned out of control — more than five times the size of the European market in 2014, and 10 times the size of the American market the year after.
Since that time, Goss says the impact has likely become less “enormous.” “Just because they were 100% subsidized, now that the support is coming off, that growth level is going to fall,” he says.
As for future trends, Goss speculates that soon the subsidy in China will not be offered, and for the Chinese government to really get behind EVs, those subsidies would need to be as high as 40% for them to seriously take off.
Meanwhile, in Europe, there are few signs that electric vehicles are taking off. Europe was first to market with electric cars, in 2006, but sales have not taken off as expected, according to a recent report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
“European auto industry has made little effort to replace internal combustion engine with electric motor,” it reads. “The market failure explains the lack of important breakthrough in electric vehicles development and the