While this week has been a momentous time for the car industry with General Motors filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in U.S., taking many of the headlines with it, in a small industrial estate 90 miles south west of Shanghai there have been developments in the electric car sector which could literally change the electric car industry forever. A company by the name of New Power has made the first inroads into an electric car which can compete on speed, distance and comfort with the traditional oil-based fuel cars of today. So what exactly is going on?
The Far Eastern car industry
While the Far East has long been a major player in the electronics and car industry, over recent years it has been overshadowed somewhat by developments in the U.S. where the likes of General Motors grew to the size which saw it become the centre of everything in the car industry. However, while General Motors took high-risk chances, which have come back to haunt the company, the Chinese government has been quietly developing and funding a number of electric car projects.
This is an industry which worldwide has attracted hundreds of millions of dollars worth of investment but before today it had yet to produce a comparable car with the traditional gasoline/petrol vehicles of today.
How efficient are electric cars currently on the market?
While it would be wrong to suggest there are no electronic cars on the market which are roadworthy and have some use, there is nothing which compares like-for-like with the more traditional oil-based fuel vehicles. We have the Reva G-Wiz which is the bestselling electric car in the UK even though it has a range of only 48 miles between charges. We also have the Smart ED which is said to have a range of 62 miles between charges although this particular vehicle is only on trial so far.
BMW has also produced a prototype electric Mini which is said to have a range of 150 miles between charges. However, this vehicle is only suitable for two passengers as the battery required to get the car the maximum 150 miles literally takes up the whole of the back seat. As a consequence, and despite the millions spent by BMW, this vehicle is highly unlikely to ever reach the marketplace.
Developments in China
While these claims have yet to be verified by the authorities, New Power has been testing a 4x4 vehicle which it claims has a range of up to 250 miles and a maximum speed of 75 mph. Interesting, the vehicle can be recharged in between six and eight hours from a conventional electric socket although using a high-power recharging point, which are sure to become commonplace in garages around the world in due course, the vehicle can be fully recharged within two hours. This is the difference between this new vehicle and the vehicles currently on offer in the worldwide market.
Christened the Zhong Tai the vehicle which the Sunday Times reporters were allowed to test drive is of a fairly basic nature and based upon the 2006 Daihatsu Terios which the company acquired and adapted for the Chinese market. The electric vehicle looks identical apart from the fact there is no exhaust pipe and there is a refuelling socket where the petrol tank would normally be.
While the Sunday Times reporters were fairly critical of the comfort factor with the vehicle and the dated look, the whole point is that this is a vehicle which can compete on a level playing field with more traditional vehicles of the day. This is literally a turning point in the electric car market and one which we will look back on in due course as a monumental day.
The details of the Zhong Tai
The vehicle itself is a massive 1.2 tonnes in weight with a battery which weighs in excess of 660lbs although the vehicle is surprisingly quick going from 0-60 mph in just 12 seconds and from 18 mph to 54 mph in just 5 seconds. While there were "teething problems" with the test drive there is no doubt that the technology breakthrough has been made and this could be the car of the future.
The company claims the vehicle itself can do 170 miles at an average speed of 60 mph before it needs refuelling, 218 miles at 48 mph and around 250 miles of "inner city driving". The vehicle itself is set to go into mass production next year with 20,000 vehicles expected per annum and UK sales expected to start within 2 years. The company, funded by the Chinese government, is said to be in talks with UK and U.S.distributors and no doubt the UK government will soon be on board as it looks to further enhance its "green policies".
Will Europe be left behind?
There is real concern within the European car industry, and to a certain extent the U.S. market, that the Chinese authorities have jumped the gun and produced a vehicle which is far more efficient and far more marketable than anything else in the pipeline. How ironic that in the week that General Motors was forced into applying for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a little-known Chinese company has stepped from the shadows to move the electric car sector to a whole new level.
There will be speculation as to why European car manufacturers, and U.S. car manufacturers, have been so slow to take on the Chinese revolution but ultimately this new vehicle has been kept under wraps and a closely guarded secret in the Far East.
As the U.S. and European car industries continue to struggle with demand bumping along at record lows it is the Chinese authorities who have taken a massive step forward in the electric car industry. If the vehicle, which has been seen and road tested by the Sunday Times, is able to complete 250 miles of inner-city travel before refuelling this will put the car head and shoulders above anything else in the pipeline or on the market.
Whether UK, U.S. and European governments will jump on board or divert potential investment into their own car industries remains to be seen. Do they reject their green agendas in favour of protecting the European, UK and U.S. car markets or do they embrace this Chinese revolution and join the Far Eastern party?