China Beating The U.S. In Electric Vehicle Race (But Maybe Not For Long)

China is rolling out electric cars and charging stations at an impressive rate. Here’s how we stop them from beating us.

China Beating The U.S. In Electric Vehicle Race (But Maybe Not For Long)

Ethonomic Indicator of the Day: $15 billion – The amount China has invested in electric vehicles and infrastructure.


The U.S doesn’t have much over China at this point. Sure, we have breathable air, but they have more clean energy funding, the world’s fastest-growing economy, and at least for now, a head start on the vehicle electrification race. Unless we catch up, China may eventually invade us with their EV tanks and take our remaining natural resources to fuel their growing economy. What to do, what to do…

China’s success with EVs, as reported by PRTM Management Consultants today, can be attributed mostly to its Ten Cities, Thousand Vehicles Program. Instituted in 2009, the program rolled out 1,000 EVs (mostly garbage trucks, buses, and taxis) in 10 major cities–all as part of an attempt to identify and solve technology and safety issues. Now the program has been expanded to 25 cities, and it’s still growing.

The country is also making strides in charging-station infrastructure. The U.S. may have lots of slow-charging stations scattered across the country, but China has 75 charge stations that can juice up vehicles in just 10 to 30 minutes. And when China says “charge station,” it doesn’t mean a spot for a single car to charge; a Chinese charge station contains 40 to 80 charge spots for individual vehicles. It’s like they’re trying to embarrass us.

As it stands, China has more EVs–both of the fleet and consumer variety–than the U.S. But as eager car companies release a glut of EVs in the coming years, the U.S. may take the lead on consumer cars. Remember: China is focusing mainly on fleet vehicles.

We’re still lagging in the infrastructure expansion part of things, though. The U.S. has invested $2.4 billion in EV development, $54 million for tax credits on alternative refueling stations (like EV charge spots), and $100 million on a five-city EV infrastructure program–a pittance compared to China’s $15 billion investment in electric vehicle expansion.

The other thing holding us back is the turnover of our democratic government. “Every two to four years, we can have a change in legislature, so who knows in 2012 what would happen from a policy perspective,” says Aaron Tweadey, a principal at PRTM. “What [China says] they’re going to do for 2015, they’re going to be marching towards that goal.” China is reliable; the U.S is not.


Here’s the bright side. Even a $15 billion investment in EVs doesn’t mean that the Chinese public will start buying electric cars faster than U.S consumers. And in any case, the more EVs we have on roads the world over, the better–provided that the EVs are powered by a grid that uses mostly renewables. The bigger question: Who can switch to large-scale renewables and electric vehicles the fastest? That’s the real winner. For now, we can gloat over the fact that China is still building coal plants as fast as they can. And we don’t have to wear masks to go outside, so there’s that, too.

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

[Image: Flickr user btaroli]

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.