Critical Chinese Role in Determining Clean Fuel Technology

It seems China is becoming the pivotal player on many fronts. Apologies for being a day late on this story, but we could not access it on the Financial Times website and had to have the text e-mailed.

As we have noted before, the proliferation of fuel technologies is slowing widespread adoption of cleaner cars. One obstacle is the chicken and egg problem of infrastructure: any new engine requires an adequate number of fuelling stations to be viable, but no one is going to invest in building the infrastructure unless a large enough number of consumers have embraced the technology. And national differences between carmakers isn’t helping matters. Detroit is pushing ethanol, while foreign companies are pursuing diesel, electric, and hybrids.

The Financial Times, in “Race to sell alternative fuel autos in China,” finds that China’s decision on alternative fuel will have a significant impact on which technologies succeed:

Multinational carmakers are vigorously courting Chinese consumers and lobbying the government over their competing alternative fuel cars as China emerges as a potentially decisive battleground for the new generation of vehicles.

Toyota, Honda, General Motors, Ford and BMW as well as a number of Chinese companies used the Shanghai auto show, which started this weekend, to exhibit new alternative fuel cars.

Although the market for such vehicles in China at the moment is negligible, the country has the fastest-growing car market. It is likely to overtake the US to become the biggest in the world over the next decade. So if any new technology gains a stronghold in China, it could help shape demand for alternative fuel cars in developed markets.

“If China becomes the largest market in the world, it will obviously affect the way these technologies are adopted,” said Mei Wei Cheng,” head of Ford’s China operation.

German car companies are emphasising the potential benefits of diesel engines, an area where they are industry leaders. Winfried Vahland, chief executive of Volkswagen in China, said the energy efficiency of diesel was a strong selling point.

Bosch, the car parts and appliances company, is investing €200m ($272m) in a product development site for diesel injection technology in Wuxi, near Shanghai. “We are ready for diesel take-off,” says Rudolf Colm of the management board responsible for China. Manufacturers of clean diesel cars say they are better suited to long distances than hybrids.

General Motors is showing a version of its Chevrolet Volt electric concept car.

While GM plans to take a hybrid to China this year, Ford showed its Escape hybrid in Shanghai.

Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation is showing its own fuel-cell hybrid concept car.

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