How Many Hybrid Cars Were Sold Last Year in that Awakening Green Giant, China?

by Marlo Lewis on August 24, 2011

in Features

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‘Clean-tech’ advocates depict China as a model for U.S. policymakers, because Beijing subsidizes the manufacture of wind turbines, solar panels, and electric vehicles.

In February, China announced plans to manufacture 1 million electric vehicles by 2015. To make green cars affordable, Beijing would pay automakers to cut the price of a battery car by $8,785 and a plug-in hybrid by $7,320. Of course, the announcement did not mention that millions of Chinese people who are still too poor to own cars would be taxed for the benefit of their wealthier brethren.

Not to be outdone by this visionary plan, President Obama, in his State of the Union Address, also called for incentives to put 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

Neither prognostication is likely to come true.

As Jonathan Watts reports in today’s UK Guardian:

But hopes that the country will also become a pioneer in the shift towards “clean car” technology have suffered a setback as the Chinese show little sign of interest in electric and hybrid vehicles despite ambitious government plans. Last year, Toyota managed to sell only one Prius – the world’s most commercially successful hybrid car – in the fastest-growing market. Sports utility vehicle sales, by contrast, are surging.

Of 13.8 million new motor vehicles sold in China in 2010, a whopping 850,000 were SUVs, and 425 were Hummers.

It’s not even clear that the one Prius sold was purchased by a consumer:

 It is not known who made that solitary purchase – industry analysts said it was unlikely to be an individual as there is little technical support for the model. “It may be a domestic rival that bought the hybrid to strip it down and see how it works,” said one industry observer who did not want to be named.

What do Beijing’s Reds and U.S. greens have in common? They refuse to learn that if a technology is commercially viable, no government support is needed, and if it is not commercially viable, no amount of government support can make it so.

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