Electric cars labelled ‘overhype’ at Shanghai Auto Show

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Electric cars labelled ‘overhype’ at Shanghai Auto Show

The technology that will power a new generation of electric cars has been overhyped, leading industry sources said at the Shanghai Auto Show yesterday.

By Malcolm Moore in Shanghai
Last Updated: 6:34PM BST 20 Apr 2009


Chinese companies, such as BYD, have been lauded for developing advanced batteries that could power a revolution in motoring.

BYD, a former battery maker, was the first company in the world to start selling a heavily-electrified hybrid car last December, easily beating larger rivals such as Toyota to the market.

As a result, Warren Buffett, the US investment manager who runs Berkshire Hathaway, bought 10pc of BYD last December for $230m (£158m).

The Chinese government has also committed to funding new technologies, such as BYD’s iron-phosphate-based lithium ion batteries, with £1bn of research subsidies.

In a bid to demonstrate the safety of his batteries to the environment, Wang Chuan-Fu, BYD’s chief executive, has actually drunk a vial of his own battery fluid.

Henry Li, the company’s export manager, said BYD is currently in talks with “American and European automakers to supply powertrain systems, including batteries”.

However, other executives at the Shanghai Auto show suggested that electric car technology was still in its infancy.

“From what we have seen so far the technology is not that advanced in terms of battery life, range, and recharging,” said Nick Reilly, the head of General Motors in the Asia-Pacific region. “If you look at the detail, they tend to not to perform as well on these measures. But they have a good price and we know the Chinese government is investing a lot of money.”

Dr Peter Pleus, the head of the engine systems division of Shaeffler, an automotive parts supplier, said: “I am trying to find someone who can explain to me why these batteries are so advanced, but so far no one can do so.”

The government plans to tempt buyers into switching to electric cars with a subsidy of up to £5,000 per vehicle, but the plan has been criticized by the automotive industry because of a lack of recharging stations.

Meanwhile, Paul Withrington at Transport Watch concluded that carbon dioxide emissions could rise if electric cars become widespread, especially in China, because electricity would have to be generated by fossil fuel power stations.