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Low-speed EVs: Legalization is still premature

Earlier rumors floating on Chinese media outlets that the country was losing control over the low-speed EV industry were proven false, according to a recent report by Auto Business.

“The approval of all vehicle production should comply with national policy. Low-speed EVs are not the kind of new energy vehicles that the country is encouraging,” Wu Wei, an official with the National Development and Reform Commission, told Auto Business.

Wu said the reason that China maintains tight control over low-speed EV production has more to do with on-road safety of passengers and vehicles than a technology threshold.

“The safety of low-speed EVs has not been certified by any authorities, and their makers don’t have production licenses. Legalization is still premature,” said Wu.

The new product definition

“We started to test the technical performance of popular products from 12 Chinese low-speed EV manufacturers in September,” said Wu Zhixin, vice president of China Automotive Technology and Research Center (CATARC). So far only those products of Shifeng Group and YO MO Motors Co. have passed all the tests.

The test project is ground work for the new short-range battery EV. The research project is being led by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) and CATARC.

Wu said the tests include front and side collisions, top speed, acceleration, grading ability, low temperature performance and reliability, which are required by the Technical Standards for Passenger BEVs.

Tangjun Electric Vehicle Co. failed two tests in mass distribution and acceleration. The company’s sales manager Liu Guozeng said they will try to improve the products and re-do the tests.

The much disputed low-speed electric vehicles powered by lead-acid batteries can be legalized, according to Professor C. C. Chan, president of the World Electric Vehicle Association.

In May 2012, C. C. Chan told CBU/CAR at a meeting in Shanghai that several government departments had met in Tianjin with representatives from Chinese automakers to discuss the definition of short-range pure electric passenger vehicles, which include low-speed EVs.

The proposed definition of short-range pure EVs refers to vehicles with a maximum speed of 80 km/h, a grading ability of no less than 20 percent and a minimum drive range of 50 km in urban conditions. Batteries should account for no more than 30 percent of the entire vehicle mass.

In reference to the Technical Standards for Passenger BEVs, the major difference between short-range and regular BEVs is the drive range: 50 km versus 80 km.

Though the country has been doing research on the definition of short-range pure electric passenger vehicles, the final results are unpredictable, according to Jackton Lu, founder and CEO of Lojo EV Ltd. which is based in Weihai, Shandong Province.

At a hybrid and electric vehicle seminar held last September, Lu told CBU/CAR that the proposed standards for short-range battery EVs were much debated and have met resistance from conventional gasoline car manufacturers.

“Traditional carmakers, which are also developing and producing battery electric vehicles, are worried that the evolved low-speed EV products may squeeze out their market share,” said Lu.


Low-speed EVs have to evolve

Low-speed electric vehicles do not represent the future direction of China’s new energy vehicles and their development should be restricted, according to Su Bo, vice minister of MIIT.

In July, China released the Energy-Saving and New Energy Vehicle Industry Development Plan (2012-2020), which said nothing about the development of low-speed EVs.

“From a technology perspective, I don’t think low-speed EVs can lead the new energy vehicle industry,” said Su, who explained that although low-speed EVs are driven by electricity, they are using lead-acid batteries which do not possess any development potential.

Low-speed EVs have remained controversial in China because of the pollution caused by their lead-acid batteries. But such electric cars are welcomed in small cities and rural areas.

“I would say it is better to oversee their development instead of keeping one eye shut,” said Su, adding that it is difficult to completely shut the door as in some places in Shandong the low-speed EVs are massively produced.

Trials should be carried out on low-speed EVs that are regulated by safety, environmental protection and entry management standards, Su said.

The MIIT is of the opinion that short-range EVs must meet safety standards and consider using lithium-ion instead of lead-acid batteries, according to auto industry policy analyst Huang Yonghe.

“Low-speed EVs look good on the outside, but the industry is not reliable,” said Zhang Hao, vice president of Zotye’s new energy vehicle company. He recalled a low-speed EV manufacturer that had come to Zotye hoping for technology cooperation. But their products were found unqualified for production.

Though many low-speed EV manufacturers claim to have four major automobile manufacturing processes, Zhang said they are cutting corners to make cars, omitting every component that they think is not necessary.

Acknowledging poor quality, some low-speed EV makers are striving to improve their product quality to meet both consumer needs and national standards.

Shifeng Group, the country’s leading low-speed EV maker in Gaotang, Shandong Province, has undertaken the project for “new complete vehicle development for small pure electric vehicles” under the National High-Tech R&D Program (863 Program). The project was examined and approved by the Ministry of Science and Technology in November 2011.

Some of China’s carmakers have also laid their eyes on developing small and short-range EVs. Chery sold 3,000 electric QQ3 in 2011 and a record 452 units for a single month in March 2012.

The most recent case is the Zhidou EV, produced by Shandong Xindayang Electric Vehicle Co. Sold at ¥60,000 ($9,600), Xindayang endeavors to make it a boutique micro EV that can take over the market with its outstanding quality and performance.

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