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New study: Chinese more receptive to EVs than Americans

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A new study by a team from Carnegie Mellon University, Ford and Drexel University suggests that Chinese consumers are more receptive to adopting battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) than their American counterparts.

The study, “Will subsidies drive electric vehicle adoption? Measuring consumer preferences in the US and China,” was published in the journal Transportation Research Part A.

The team modeled consumer preferences for conventional, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles in China and the US, using data from 2012–2013 surveys. They found that American respondents had significantly lower “willingness to pay” for BEV technology than their Chinese counterparts.

The team suggested several features of the Chinese car market that might explain the difference:

  • Two thirds of Chinese consumers are first-time buyers who have less experience with both gasoline and plug-in vehicles, and may not have the same entrenched expectations as US buyers.
  • Many Chinese are familiar with electric bicycles, so the concept of plugging in a vehicle is less novel.
  • China has a major intercity train system, providing an inexpensive and reliable alternative for long-distance travel.

“While our consumer preference estimates point to greater potential for mainstream adoption of BEVs in China than the US, the electricity grid in China is more emissions-intensive, and a shift to BEVs might result in increased air pollution,” wrote John Paul Helveston and his co-authors. “In contrast, today’s hybrids, which reduce oil consumption and emissions, have higher near-term adoption potential in both countries and may therefore offer more total emissions and oil displacement benefits in the near term.”

Nonetheless, encouraging more BEV adoption in China may be a positive development for the long term: “Given that China is now the largest consumer and producer of automobiles worldwide, the trends in China’s market have the potential to change the economic incentives for emerging technology development worldwide. Even though EV adoption in China might increase local emissions, global emissions from automobiles could nevertheless plausibly decrease as a result of increased adoption of EV technology worldwide.”

Meanwhile, sales statistics indicate that China may indeed be overtaking the US as the top EV market. While the first Chinese EVs went into production in 2008, sales were minimal until last year, when they started to take off.

According to a recent article in Fortune, 27,000 plug-in vehicles were sold in China last December, over double the US figure. There are reasons to be skeptical – an unknown portion of sales are to government agencies and/or large corporations, and it’s far from clear that there’s much real consumer demand for “new energy vehicles.”

However, with both the central and local governments heavily incentivizing plug-ins, and discouraging polluting vehicles, there can be little doubt that the race is on.


Source: Green Car Congress, Green Car Reports, Fortune
Image: Nicolas Raymond/Flickr

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