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China's Road to Electrification Unveiled at the 2011 NAIAS


The BYD e6 is already being used in China as a taxicab.
by Mike Wrathell



DETROIT -- In 15 years, China will run out of oil. Gasoline. Petroleum. Whatever you want to call it. Pick your poison. Unless they find a big oil reserve like we did in North Dakota (and haven’t “harvested” yet), or start offshore drilling in the international waters of the Gulf of Mexico or Tonkin or elsewhere, China will have to rely 100 percent on foreign oil. Right now they get a lot from Iran, which explains a lot of their conduct on the UN Security Council. We may be in the same slow boat as China someday. There are only so many dinosaur carcasses.

Showing the foresight of Confucius or Lao Tzu, China is aggressively encouraging domestic electric vehicle companies with subsidies and other incentives. Pilot cities like Hong Kong and Shenzhen have electric taxicabs and buses. 2011 is going to be an electric year!

I learned all this and more at the 4th annual seminar on Chinese automobiles at the 2011 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) at Cobo Center in my birth city of Detroit. This seminar was entitled “China’s Road to Electrification: Government and Industry Responses.” China Business Update and China Automotive Review, a magazine all about the Chinese auto industry once again presented an excellent seminar with four very knowledgeable speakers at a half-day seminar on Wednesday, January 12, 2011. Michael Hanley of Ernst & Young, Paul Lin of BYD Auto (10 percent of which is owned by Warren Buffett), Linda Luo of China Business Update, and Lei Xing of CBU/CAR all spoke wonderfully about issues surrounding electric cars, not only in China, but in North America and Europe.

I hope you will forgive me for this synthesis of their respective statements, filtered through and enhanced by my own understanding.

One of the best-known Chinese companies making electric vehicles (EVs) is said BYD Auto, short for “Build Your Dreams.” The e6 Premier is their purely electric car and is now at the NAIAS’s main showroom at the BYD exhibit. So is the F3DM, “the world’s first mass produced plug in dual-mode hybrid” according to China Automotive Review. It can go 38 miles on a full charge, and another 313 miles on a full tank of gas. The Chevrolet Volt and the F3DM both have internal combustion engines. BYD is also the world leader in rechargeable batteries, using nickel, lithium-ion, iron-phosphate and other materials. BYD claims the iron-phosphate (Fe) battery is biodegradable, with no toxic electrolytes, and no heavy metals. Their Fe battery comes with a ten-year warranty.

When the F3DM breaks into the North American auto market as early as 2012, it will probably cost around $28,000. That’s $5,000 cheaper than the Chevy Volt, after its rebate. And BYD’s pure electric car, the e6, is now being tested as an eTaxi in Shenzhen, a large city in southern China, where BYD is based.

BYD has an office in L.A. now, and is going to supply the City of L.A. with some K9s, an all-electric bus. There is a K9 on display at the BYD exhibit, too. The K9 can go 136-174 miles/day, enough juice to go from San Fernando to Westwood a few times a day. That was the old bus route I lived off when I lived in L.A. for a year the year after my freshman year at The University of Michigan. It was quite a long route. Westwood is where UCLA is. Of course, if a bus gets caught in traffic, it will be losing charge the whole time, but at least it won’t be adding to the horrible smog. There were days when I lived in the San Fernando Valley that you could not tell you were in a valley. None of the mountains were visible, so electric buses in L.A. are a terrific idea. Speaking of mountains. BYD is going to use a wind farm in the Tehachapi Mountains northwest of L.A. to store energy for its batteries, the AP reported in December. Wunderbar!

Sixty-one percent of all air pollution in Hong Kong can be eliminated once all taxicabs and buses are electric, which is BYD’s noble goal. It will not only cut down on CO2 emissions, but save a lot of yuanola.

China wants to be the world leader in electric cars, and 2011 is a pivotal year. Hopefully, China’s electrification efforts will make the next Olympics in China a less smoggy affair, and that goes for L.A., too!

By the way, I heard from one person at the seminar who has been all over the world that New Delhi has way more smog than any major city in China. So I sure hope India is monitoring China’s efforts at electrification, just like we need to be doing!

2011 is the moment of truth for electric vehicles. Even South Africa is getting in the picture with the Joule. There are now 120 million e-bike and e-trikes (3-wheeled bicycles) in China. There are two charging stations in Beijing, and those aren’t for electric Peking Duck!

Besides Antarctica, South America is the only continent that has yet to embrace electrification. Brazil has cars that run solely on ethanol, and also cars that run solely on natural gas, so they say phooey to electric cars. The Middle East still likes gasoline-powered vehicles, by the way, and doesn’t count as a continent--part of it being in Africa, but most of it being in Asia.

India has some electric cars, but if they can ever harvest the methane from all those cows and make a methane engine, watch out!

By the end of 2012, we should have a lot better picture of the state of electric cars worldwide, and also e-bikes, e-trikes, e-buses, and e-trains. An electric bullet train from Beijing to Shanghai is scheduled to start rolling this June. It will only take four hours with a top speed of 240 mph!

Hopefully, BYD, GM, Ford, Nissan, Toyota, and other leaders in electrification will tackle all the issues that come up. Let’s hope America’s aging Grid can handle the surge in use that is inevitable with the electrification of the transportation sector. I hope the Tea Party does not mind terribly if we spend some money upgrading the infrastructure of the Grid. The Grid warned us once already that it needs some attention back on August 14, 2003 when we had the now-infamous Northeast Blackout. Our natural gas lines in America have warned us even more recently, as have our bridges….

Some might wonder what is the source of power for the Grid. Well, there is coal, there is Niagara Falls, there is nuclear power, and there is always The Sun and wind, too, if we choose to harness their power. BYD uses solar and wind power in China to power up their EV charging stations. BYD also has an Energy Storage System that can be used to upgrade the Grid. BYD speaks of a “smart grid.” They are thinking ahead and America can learn a lot from BYD and China. A combination of silicon solar cells, wind, and water power is the way to go, I think; but we would really have to go hard and heavy to power the entire Grid that way. Yet, we need to act now, before another catastrophe. The technology is here, folks. Yes, it needs some tweaking, some evolution, some more innovations, but it is ripe for the plucking. Paul Lin, Global Marketing Manager of BYD Auto, said that nuclear power is not “sustainable,” by the way.

“Where there is a will there is a way,” someone said before everyone said it, and Plato first wrote in The Republic, “Necessity is the Mother of Invention.” We sure don’t want to rely solely on “dirty” energies, like nuclear and coal to produce the electricity to power EVs. There is already enough irony in the world.

All this begs the question, of course, of where we are going to dispose all the batteries powering all these EVs. Next to all the nuclear waste? Some of the chemicals used in EV batteries are rather toxic and we never want them to seep into the water table.

We could store them in thick metal containers and bury them, protecting them from terror attacks, human error, and acts of God. We could put them in rockets and fire them at The Moon or The Sun. But we might want to mine The Moon for water and/or precious metals, and what if those chemicals ended up changing the chemical composition of The Sun? No, we can’t have that.

We could fire them at Venus, named after the Goddess of Love, making her the Goddess of Love and Hazardous Waste, or we could just fire them into Deep Space, perhaps at Pluto, in an attempt to correct its highly elliptical orbit, or, better yet, at Eris, one of whose co-discoverers claims to have killed Pluto; so we could kill Eris instead to show him the infinite nature of Irony; we could even attach a camera, and beam back photos of the puny dwarf planet now thought to be smaller than Pluto, and, once Pluto’s diameter is re-measured by NASA’s New Horizons probe in July of 2015, we will probably know for sure.

However, launching rockets currently requires a lot of rocket fuel, leaving quite a carbon footprint. Congress wants NASA to develop a heavy-lift rocket by 2016 that can carry 70 tons of stuff, but NASA says their budget will not allow it. You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip, nor tea. So, disposing spent batteries on Earth, or recycling their materials once they can’t be recharged, is probably the best solution. We will just have to think of another way to kill Eris.

Well, folks, this is my journalistic swan song. I have to work full-time on my novel now. I have said my peace here at, and now I really need some Mike time. But like Tom Joad of The Grapes of Wrath, I will be around when I am needed, when I am perhaps least expected, least desired by some, yet most secretly yearned for. I will never abandon you. I am here for the duration. Goodbye, Grid; goodbye, folks! Be safe!

Related Story: Green Vehicles & China's Automobile Market discussed at 2010 NAIAS




BYD's exhibit at the 2011 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.


Photo credit:

BYD's all-electric e-Bus is soon to be used in Los Angeles.



The F3DM is a dual-mode hybrid like the Chevrolet Volt, only $5,000 cheaper.



A look inside the BYD S6DM, which is on display at the 2011 NAIAS.


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This page was last updated on Wed, January 19, 2011 9:56 PM


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