You may have heard that China has led the world in the field of electric vehicles.
This is not to say that China has the best electric car brands in the world, because Tesla still has its own advantages. Instead, China has taken the lead in terms of industrial scale and market size.
Since 2001, the Chinese government has announced a number of preferential policies for the electric car industry, which have indeed worked and even attracted Tesla to set up a factory in Shanghai. These incentives have greatly broadened China’s electric car market.
According to a report, as of June 2019, the number of electric vehicles in China was about 3.44 million, which is double that of the United States.
However, Chinese consumers have always had mixed opinions about electric cars. On Weibo, many people even mock electric cars as “electric dads”.
Let’s find out whether Chinese consumers love or hate electric cars.
What is “Electric Dad”?
On the Internet in China, electric cars have a nickname “Electric Dad”. It means that once you buy an electric car, you will become its son and be filial to it.
The origin of the word seems to come from “Wang Tonggen”(@王铜根), an auto industry commentator on Weibo, who most likely coined the word during the online debate in 2018.
For critics of electric vehicles, the word clearly describes the relationship between the owners of electric vehicles and electric vehicles in their eyes, and has a deep derogatory meaning.
To understand the deep meaning of the word, we also need to start with the defects of the electric car itself. As we all know, today’s electric vehicles have some inevitable defects, which always focus on charging and batteries.
First, the range of most electric cars is not long enough, although some luxury models have a theoretical range of more than 600 km. But most electric cars have a range of about 300-400 kilometers.
Second, electric cars have a long charging time. Even with the fastest charging posts, most electric cars take an hour to recharge. On the other hand, it takes only 5 minutes for an ordinary car to complete refueling.
Finally, the performance of electric cars is not stable. In cold areas, the battery loss is greater, and the mileage will be reduced by more than 50%.
These defects are objective, and most people who buy electric cars are aware of them. However, the special circumstances of the Chinese market have magnified these defects.
First of all, unlike European and American markets, Chinese families do not own a lot of cars. When most Chinese talk about “buying a car”, they mean buying the first car or updating the only car at home. This makes people expect electric cars to completely replace traditional cars, rather than as a supplement.
Under this premise, objectively speaking, almost no brand and model of electric vehicles can do this completely. The weaknesses of those electric cars that we are familiar with will be exposed when they completely replace traditional cars.
Insufficient mileage is the most obvious drawback in this case, and although different Chinese consumers consider their main usage scenarios when buying cars, in most cases they are looking forward to an all-terrain car.
People may commute by car every day; they will travel near the city in the same car on weekends, and some people will drive back to their hometown from the city where they live every Spring Festival.
In such a trip home, the mileage is often more than 1000 kilometers. For most electric cars, it takes three to four recharges. China’s road network is complex, and the possible paths are far more complex than those of the United States from the east coast to the west coast, which may include mountain roads. This means that when you follow the map App to take a “shortcut”, it’s almost impossible to know if you can find the next charging post before the power runs out.
The second problem is how long it takes to recharge. In most idealized scenarios, electric cars are always recharged at home. This means that all you have to do is connect your car to a charging post every day when you get home, and then get some sleep and get all the work done.
But in practice, this means you may be stuck camping near a charging station.
Imagine the 1000-kilometer long trip above. You might have planned to rest in a hotel in a city in the middle of the journey. But in reality, you find that you have run out of electricity from the electric car before you get to the city, so you have to stop to recharge in the service area next to the highway. The charging posts in the service area most likely do not support fast charging agreements for specific electric vehicle brands, resulting in you having to stay in the service area for more than six hours before you can start again. There are no hotels in many highway service areas in China, which means you need to curl up in the car for a night’s sleep.
I don’t have to judge how bad the experience is.
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Finally, it comes to the question of temperature. In northeast China, the temperature in the coldest winter is about -30℃ every year, and the temperature lasts for three to four months. This makes electric cars unusable in these areas for at least one quarter a year.
These defects make it impossible to buy an electric car to replace a traditional car in most parts of China. The discussion on the Internet has intensified the contradiction between electric car owners and traditional car owners.
Because, for a country as big as China, there are always some areas that are very friendly to electric cars. These areas may be plain cities with a warm climate and high population density in the south.
For car owners in these areas, they don’t realize how bad the experience of electric cars is in other areas. Under the influence of the “Stockholm effect” to some extent, when car media or commentators criticize the bad experience of electric cars, they will fight back online and become a troll.
This makes the term “electric dad” more appropriate because these car owners behave as if someone had insulted their parents.
In these debates, more shortcomings of electric vehicles have been discovered by trolls: for example, in very hot cities, the air conditioners of electric vehicles are often not effective enough; in terms of the structure of China’s power industry, electric cars may not be more environmentally friendly than traditional cars.
However, electric vehicles are not useless in China, and they have the opposite reputation with family cars in the field of transportation. This is also the reason for the rapid growth of the electric vehicle industry in China.
The really huge market of electric cars in China: public transportation
If you have ever been to the city of Shenzhen, you may notice something very unusual.
There seems to be no taxi with traditional cars in this city, and every taxi you see on the street is a pure electric car.
This stems from an environmental protection program launched by the government in 2010, which aims to replace public transport facilities in Shenzhen from fuel-driven to electric-powered within 10 years.
This reveals the opposite of the consumer market, the great success of electric vehicles in China’s transportation industry.
The Shenzhen municipal government fulfilled its plan target one year ahead of schedule. As of January 2019, 99.06 percent of taxis in Shenzhen were electric vehicles (excluding vehicles on Didi and Uber). The city’s buses have been replaced by electric buses since 2017.
Compared with the huge disputes and obstacles in the field of private vehicles, these updates in the public transport industry have not caused any controversy. Many Shenzhen residents don’t even notice that buses and taxis have been changed.
In fact, it is easy to understand that there are often large-scale dispatching and operation in the field of public transport, which means that the defects of electric vehicles can be eliminated by planning in advance.
In the case of buses, for example, all buses run according to a fixed schedule, which means that it is impossible to run out of power due to “unexpected mileage”. The bus company can arrange the charging time of each electric bus in the shift schedule or quickly set the electric bus off by changing the battery when needed.
The same situation exists in the taxi industry, where taxi drivers are more familiar with urban traffic conditions than ordinary drivers. Most of them are familiar with the location of charging piles in the city, so they rarely encounter individual car owners who run out of power halfway.
In addition, taxi companies in Shenzhen have also equipped electric taxis with an outward display that shows the taxi’s current plan to drive in the direction of the city. This allows people to specifically recruit taxis without the embarrassment of being stopped and then refused.
According to statistics, after the full electrification of urban public transport and taxis, the annual emission of nitrogen oxides and other pollutants in Shenzhen has been reduced by 869.6 tons. Reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2.209 million tons a year, which is almost equivalent to the carbon emissions of 800000 household cars. The Shenzhen transportation industry has also reduced fuel consumption by more than 95%, and pure electric vehicles with lower noise have also reduced noise pollution during driving.
Shenzhen’s success has attracted follow-up from other Chinese cities, and Beijing plans to achieve 100% of electric buses and 20% of electric taxis by 2020. Guangzhou plans to replace all buses and 75% of taxis with electric vehicles by 2020. Shanghai plans to achieve 60 percent of electric vehicles by 2020 and requires 80 percent of new taxis, buses, and government vehicles to be electric vehicles.
In addition to China’s first-tier cities, many of China’s emerging cities have put forward similar plans. Those cities are smaller and the public transport system is simpler, so it is easier to upgrade.
Sales of electric vehicles (used in the transportation industry) in China’s 2345-tier cities rose 153%, 479%, 361%, and 223% respectively in 2018, according to a report. As the economy grows, these cities are renovating their infrastructure, which means they can set up charging piles more quickly and fully locally.
The success of electric vehicles in the field of transportation has driven the development of China’s electric vehicle market. In 2018, about 2.001 million electric cars were sold worldwide, and 1.053 million were sold in China, more than the rest of the world combined.
In the past, China’s own car brands were often unable to compete with overseas brands. Ordinary consumers prefer to buy traditional cars from Japanese brands (such as Toyota, Nissan, Honda) or German brands (such as Audi, Volkswagen, BMW).
But with the development of electric cars, Chinese local car brands can begin to compete with these overseas brands for the love of consumers.
On the one hand, due to the inherent defects of electric vehicles at this stage, few electric vehicles are perfect, which makes consumers will not pursue overseas brands of electric vehicles (it is not worth spending a lot of money to buy a BMW electric vehicle). On the other hand, Chinese local electric vehicle brands such as NIO, BEIJING and BYD have gained more experience in the production of electric vehicles in the field of public transport. This allows them to make better electric cars at lower prices.
As in other markets, Tesla is a star in China’s electric car market. But unlike its positioning of electric supercars in other markets, Tesla’s popularity in China is also triggered by low prices.
Unlike the company’s strategy in the US, Tesla’s price in China is falling. Tesla (China) has made 10 price adjustments since 2018, 8 of which have been drastically reduced. It took only nine months for Model 3 (made in China version) to fall from the initial 328000 yuan (about $48000) to 271500 yuan (about $39700).
Other Chinese electric car companies also followed Tesla’s lead in slashing prices in 2020. This has led to more Chinese consumers buying electric cars and further expanded the dispute originally mentioned in this article. Many traditional car owners and automotive media believe that buying electric cars now is paying for research funding for immature technology.
But there is no doubt that with the sharp reduction in prices and the exemplary effect of electric vehicles in the field of public transport, China’s electric vehicle market is exploding.