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SAE New Energy Vehicle Forum: China’s focus on NEVs may have profound impact on future of transportation

China has a number of critical economic and environmental imperatives driving its pursuit of vehicle electrification, said the roster of plenary speakers at the SAE 2013 New Energy Vehicle Forum held in Shanghai this week. These include the increasingly problematic pollution and haze in cities; China’s projected increased reliance on imported oil; the need for rationalized multimodal transportation systems in ever more congested and space-limited cities; the growing dominance of the China auto market; and the desire to have China become the leader in the next generation of automotive technology, vehicles and mobility systems.

The shift from fossil fuels to electricity—while held in common with other countries—will be based on the “specific situation” in China, making the best use of China’s own advantages and innovations, but also with international cooperation, said Dr. Zhixin Wu, Vice President of the China Automotive Technology and Research Center (CATARC). The details of that specific situation may result in an electric vehicle parc somewhat different than in Western countries, other speakers noted, and may indeed—given the obvious scale of the China market—herald a major transformation in transportation, including the type and role of personal vehicles, others suggested.

If you look at China and you look at the development of the market here in China, it is an inevitable consequence that the largest auto market in the world is likely going to lead a revolution in automotive paradigms. The way cars are used here, the ways in which cars interact with the environment, the way in which human beings reside in urban centers in China are profoundly going to seed the development of the auto industry in every other part of the world.

With increasing pressure from air pollution, oil consumption and congestion, China is compelled to reinvent propulsion technologies. … The irony of all this is that the need for a change in the paradigm of personal transportation needs to happen here, moreso than it needs to happen anywhere else. But the ironic piece is that the [Chinese] companies that are trying to reinvent transportation have the least experience at developing the automobile. China wants to lead a revolution in transportation, not follow.

Why? Because the needs are different in China, and quite frankly, it’s an industrial development plan. If you choose a path to electrification, you want to choose a path that gives advantage to Chinese industries. If Chinese companies follow the conventional hybrid path, the diesel path, those are led by other automotive centers. New energy vehicles is a relatively blue ocean.

—William Russo, President and CEO, Synergistics

Policy background. China’s government has been investing in alternative automotive propulsion technology for more than a decade. The first target (1999-2002) was compressed natural gas (CNG), liquid petroleum gas (LPG) and other combustion alternative fuel vehicles (CAFVs), in a program called the Clean Auto Auction.

With the 10th 5-year Plan (“10-5”, 2002-2006), the government introduced the goal of developing and commercializing electric vehicles. The development of hybrid vehicles became a key element in China’s “863 program”—a national high-tech plan initiated in March 1986 (earlier post). The Electric Vehicle Project identified fuel-cell vehicles (FCVs), battery-electric vehicles (BEVs), and hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) as the priorities for the development of alternative propulsion technologies. The government committed RMB800 million (then the equivalent of $97 million) from the State High Tech Development Plan.

The government increased spending in a third phase, from 2006, to RMB 1.1 billion ($138 million), and in a fourth phase, since 2009, with the range of power sources under investigation broadening to include batteries.

Under the 12th Five Year Plan (“12-5”), covering the 2011-15 period, electric vehicles are identified as one of seven strategic emerging industries to be given special support. An alternative-energy vehicles development plan for 2011-20 provides for investment of RMB100 billion ($15 billion) in research and development. (Earlier post.)

In 2012, China’s State Council announced a target of 500,000 plug-in vehicles by 2015, jumping up to 5 million by 2020. (Earlier post.) However, by the end of 2012, only 27,800 EVs were on the road (not counting two-wheelers or e-bikes), 80% of which are buses.

Accompanying those unit targets are some specific technology and cost targets: batteries are to offer 150 Wh/kg and cost 2 RMB/Watt (US$0.33/W) by 2015, with an increase in density to 300 Wh/kg and concomitant reduction in cost to 1.5 RMB/Watt (US$0.25/Watt) by 2020.

China requires a reduction in average fuel consumption of the passenger vehicle to 6.9 l/100 km in 2015 and to 5.0 l/100 km in 2020. The average fuel consumption of the passenger vehicles made in China was 7.3 l/100 km in 2012—a clear gap compared with 2015 objective and a great challenge compared with 2020 objective.

Current status. In his overview of China’s work on New Energy Vehicles, Dr. Wu explained that with 12-5 plan, China began concentrating on an R&D framework with three powertrain verticals: fuel cell vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles and hybrid electric vehicles, and three component technology verticals: batteries, motor drive systems, and energy management systems.

China is also starting with electrifying what Dr. Wu called the high-end (trucks and buses) and the low-end (micro-vehicles) and then plans to come to the mid-range.

From 2008 to 2010, China began increasing pubic demonstrations to evaluate the technology; these are being expanded from 2010 to 2015. By 2020, China is targeting the mass production of EVs, as well as launching R&D for the next generation of EVs.

Sector Category Units
Public sector Hybrid bus 12,156
Pure electric bus 2,526
Hybrid passenger car 3,703
Pure electric passenger car 6,853
Other electric vehicles 2,194
Private sector Pure electric passenger car 4,400

The development of EVs is very important to China: for haze, pollution and energy security. With the development of EVs, the China auto industry can transform from a big producer to the leading producer. We hope that innovation and our development capacity can be increased. We can also see that the policy incentives and support from the government are the strongest in the world. China will become the largest producer of and largest market for EVs.

—Dr. Zhixin Wu

A perspective on the US. Dr. Huei Peng, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Michigan and the US Director of the US-China Clean Energy Research Center-Clean Vehicle Consortium, provided the predominantly Chinese audience at the SAE New Energy Vehicle Forum with a perspective on development efforts in the US. Dr. Peng was quick to note that “I do not speak for the US approach, I do not think there is a single US approach.

Does the US government have a clear strategy? Not compared to China. However, the US DOE has high level strategic thinking, nicely captured by the quadrennial technology review.

… One characteristic of the US approach is “all of the above.” The US does not believe in home run solution—in other words, someone makes a breakthrough in batteries, and all is well and all problems are solved. More likely, I think [all of the above] is a fundamental philosophy of many people in the Department of Energy and people who do new energy vehicle development. They believe that the future belongs to the use and integration of technologies that are cost-effective and mature and gradually making progress for the future. “All of the above” is not because we can’t make a decision, “all of the above” is because we believe there are many important aspects [to the problem].

All of the above means we will continue to support alternative hydrocarbon fuels; electrification; improve energy efficiency (very important); lightweight materials (very important); motors and power electronics (very important) and perhaps fuel cells.

—Dr. Huei Peng

The differences in US and Chinese markets and R&D suggest complementary research, according to Dr. Peng. He suggested the examples listed in the table below:

Leverage Opportunities
Area US China
Battery research Li-air; emphasis on modeling; degradation of LFP Li-sulfur; emphasis on experiments; degradation of LMO batteries
Powertrain type All electrified vehicles, including hybrid powertrain Largely focus on pure electric
ICE research topics Biofuels and clean combustion APU as range extender
Power electronics and electric machines (PEEM) Advanced design and simulation tools Produce an efficient prototype
Thermoelectric materials World-leading theories and models leading to new TE concepts Excellent facilities and focus on demonstration
Funding leverage Industrial partners MOST (Ministry of Science and Technology) 863, 973 projects

China characteristics and the impact on NEV development. While a number of speakers referred to the special characteristics of the China market, Ken Doweskin, Director, China Research and Insight Center, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd, and a Beijing resident, sketched out the basics.

  • With an aging population of 1.35 billion people, auto density is still low, but it is growing fast.

  • Soaring land and real estate prices constrain parking spaces, and drive new residential development further and further from the city center. Cities, and new residents, are becoming extremely spread out. While there is a great deal of density in the city center, the cities are becoming extremely large.

  • To keep employment levels up, cities have to provide a means of mobility.

  • Urban personal vehicle use will fit between high speed intercity rail and densely constructed urban light rail and subway systems, following a satellite-style urban expansion. Intercity personal vehicle use will fit with high-speed intercity and regional rail—e.g., people will drive to a rail station, take the train, and pickup some form of mobility on the destination end.

  • Personal mobility options will shift from ownership to fee-based shared usage. People will buy point-to-point mobility services.

  • The government will deploy considerable muscle and multiple levers in shaping mobility options. Examples are the reduction in license plate availability, restricted driving, and so on.

  • The imperatives to do something about air quality are much tougher than in Europe.

  • The key threat to China’s trade balance is oil and LNG imports.

China is not far away from blocking emitting vehicles in city centers. We can study whether consumers like [EVs] or not, but the reality is, we are seeing very strong movement toward restrictions of license plates and registrations that are going to evolve into very tough zero emissions requirements for inner city driving.

… China is not that much different from the US and other markets in having strong government interest [in EVs] and consumer reluctance. The reason things are fundamentally different is the leverage the government is deploying.

… In the eyes of China’s leadership, the very best outcome is that everyone buys a car and no one uses it.

—Ken Doweskin

You have to think differently about future, because the high growth economies are going to define a significant shift in where investments are made in the automotive industry and where the transportation needs are going to be quite different from what we were solving when Henry Ford and Gottlieb Daimler invented the autonomous vehicle, the automobile. That invention was for a different time. The new energy vehicles are about a future, and a world that will be quite different from the past.

—William Russo




When will all this talk and plans be transformed into real production and opertion of improved batteries and electrified vehicles?

The only success to date seems to be with electric buses and electric bikes.

China's major cites need many more electric vehicles and a lot less ICEVs now. Otherwise, air quality will become worst and people's health will be adversely affected.


With an average electricity generation mix delivering 1140g of CO2/kWh, the very best way to make air pollution worse in China is to go after EV cars. E-bikes make perfect sense, but with cars, they would be much better off using modern ICE vehicles until the generation mix gets their CO2 profile well down - which will take many decades.

Henry Gibson

In Europe and the UK in the early automobile years there was a large tax on high automobile horsepower which has decreased in importance, but there has been a trend to large complicated expensive vehicles which has not been balanced with tax and usage fees to discourage them. The true cost to society of automobiles must now be considered in the construction of cities, and city development must now be regulated and managed to require developers and users to pay the costs of transportation structures and facilities. Personally owned vehicles are not required and should not be highly available in large cities and people should live and work in large cities to reduce transportation needs. Newly built sections of cities should have mini subways under each street front. They would operate more like elevators and be available from within the buildings perhaps.

The major town section of Chicago had a private small tunnel railway under many streets with turns and points at many corners for goods and fuel delivery and trash removal. Competition with new delivery vehicles and improved roads made it uneconomic to operate because the public paid for maintaining the streets. The tunnels are used now for fibre optics etc.

Hydraulic Hybrid vehicles could reduce CO2 release of automobiles by 50% or more in City use. Diesel use could reduce this even more. Filters and catalysts can eliminate NOX and HC and particles with the carefully controlled engine. Capstone diesel turbines emit very low NOX CO and particles without any catalyst or other treatment and a controlled diesel piston engine could do the same with minor exhaust treatment modifications.

The INNAS NOAX Chiron engine, a hydraulic free piston engine, is the perfect choice for a hydraulic hybrid. This concept is patented by Caterpillar and built as a fork lift by INNAS. Dual Chiron units should be used and operated to prevent vibration. Opposed piston design is possible, but less redundant. The computer controlled Chiron is a perfect fit for the Artemis computer controlled Digital Displacement motor-generators that are used to drive the wheels and brake the vehicle. No electrical motor system can brake as well with less weight and higher efficiency and recovery. The Chiron is also a digital displacement device. When fitted with a Rankine cycle energy recovery system from the engine and exhaust heat such a system could compete with fuel cells for efficiency and have much lower costs. With only two large pistons or even one with a computer-hydraulic vibration eliminator, the heat loss from the cylinder is very low for high efficiency and easier cooling.

The Chiron can implement high efficiency lean burn Homogenous Charge Compression Ignition cycles without difficulty and this does not require a high pressure fuel injector for any fuel including hydrogen or diesel. Patents have been issued for prior mixing cycles for similar engines and even cooling cycles.

Modern engines of over ten horsepower should have electric assisted air lubricated turbo superchargers. The Rotating ball valves of Coates Limited should be used at least for their example of seals and simplicity. Sleeve valves such as in the Silent Knight engine might also be considered for Chiron Engines, but opposed cylinder valving was also very successful in the Deltic engine.

Bladon Jets is able to make a tiny gas turbine and there are many people who can invent ways to convert the high speed of a turbine to high pressure oil for a hydraulic hybrid using Artemis motors for the wheels. A low speed air turbine on a triple shaft jet engine is the way Rolls-Royce powers low speed generators, and Bladon did a similar trick for its demo turbine car with a switched reluctance generator turbine at the outlet.

A recent post on this site about hydraulic hybrid collection vehicles tells of their improved efficiency.

A 20 kg Durathon battery from GE could be carried from the house to an electric vehicle and would give a range of ten miles or more. Electronics would transfer the portable battery's energy to the vehicle's battery but would not be the vehicle battery. Such units might have no electronics attached for lower price. Such a unit would be available for emergency power at a house and might even be designed to run CFL lamps directly or in house-to-grid mains support function. They could be exchanged at various places.

A tiny range extender generator would always be a good thing for any electric vehicle and could run on pure ethanol if desired.

The Volt, the TESLA, the Prius and others are all examples of high cost engineering and consumer unfriendly thinking that has hindered progress, but the easier adaptability of hydraulics with their performance gains reduces the need for electric vehicles.

Diesel or Jet fuel is the future of automobiles with either turbines or free piston engines and digital hydraulics. GOLF carts with ZEBRA or DURATHON batteries can give local electric travel.


One of the best way to transport people in the near future may be with driverless (autonomous) various size electric buses.

Once freed of their expensive drivers ($125,000+/year each) electric buses could be downsized (and multiplied) to fit traffic loads. Gone would be the days of uniformed 100+ passenger city buses with a Rambo driver and 2 to 5 passengers on board.

Of course, heavily populated routes could make use of larger units or 2 to 3 smaller units coupled into a bus train, specially during peak hours etc.

Autonomous e-buses can give more flexibility at much lower cost than subways and/or suburban trains. They could operate 24/7 without union problems.

Autonomous Tesla's tubes could be the solution for ultra high speed inter-city transport to reduce highway traffic jams and accidents. They could also operate 24/7 without union problems. Frequency could be automatically generated by the number of passengers crossing the gates.

Roger Pham

Welcome back, Henry.
Electric motors in EV's are very simple, with only 1 moving part. They are extremely reliable,durable, and efficient and non-polluting. Combustion engines are very complex in comparison, more expensive, not as efficient, and are polluting, requiring expensive emission control system. These are the reasons that the world is moving toward electrification of transportation.

Good point regarding future transportation. However, there is no need to replace the human driver. Even if the vehicle can drive itself, we still need a human conductor to maintain order. We can learn the business practice of UPS and FedEx about how they can cost-effectively pickup and deliver products door to door at very affordable cost. Imagine replacing the brown UPS truck with a 20-passenger van to pick people up daily at their doors and deliver them to their work. The UPS now stands for United Passenger Service. The UPS can use the hub-and-spoke system with high-speed light rail connecting surburban stations with local pickup and let-off. People can travel from suburb to suburb 50-60 miles away without using their cars and without getting stuck in freeway traffic jams, thanks to high-capacity electric light rail system on its dedicated path, free of traffic jam. THey can much lower their risk of traffic accident and injury when riding with the United Passenger Service in large vans and light-rail trains. With advance computer routing, coordinaton, and telecommunication, high efficiency and convenience for the passengers can result. Cell phone can be used to fetch pickup anywhere and anytime, although scheduled daily pickup and delivery will reduce cost and increase efficiency.

Roger Pham

Furthermore, all smart phones today knows their location with pinpoint accuracy. To fetch an UPS pickup, one simply open an app in the smart phone and push a button, and the app will do the rest of the negotiation with a central UPS computer regarding pickup location and pickup time. Payments are done automatically by the smart phone and no cash exchange allowed. This improves the safety of the driver. Screening of passengers will be done in advance because the identity of the smart phone owner is known in advance, to ensure safety of other passengers. There will be a No-Ride-List, similar to a No-Fly-List for those with criminal records.


Why not combine simple design, driverless vehicles, and also expensive roads -- go PRT.


PR... I proposed to replace the human drivers because they cost 5 to 7 times more the vehicle they drive over 12 to 15 years. Without the over expensive Rambo drivers, buses would have less accidents and the current 75% deficit could be practically erased.

I have no doubt that autonomous buses could eventually be safer than today's with reckless drivers.

Subways do not have visible drivers and crime (in most subways) is kept at a low level. Increased surveillance and positive identification, with high definition color cameras and banning the culprits from autonomous buses and/or subways could reduce the risks to acceptable level (in most cities).

Roger Pham

Cutting cost is always a good thing, H-D. However, providing employment for the people will help the local economy and avoid social probems such as crimes, poverty, depression leading to suicides and homicides (shooting spree) and local unrest. The best way is to pay human operator less, at a more sustainable and competitive pay scale, instead of not employing human at all! Reduce benefits if necessary. People need jobs!

Professional human drivers have excellent safety records, now even better with backup sensors such as radar-based collision warning and automatic braking system, over-speeding sensors, computer navigation and routing system reduce the mind work of finding directions. Heck, the GPS can determine how tight the next curve will be and will reduce the vehicle speeds automatically to avoid overturning! Passengers will feel a lot safer with a human being at the driver seat, backed up by electronics.


RP... of course autonomous e-buses will have to go through a 5 to 10 years development and fine tuning period during which human drives will be needed. After that time, human drivers will be selectively and progressively removed just as elevator operators were.

Another intermediate solution would be with 3-unit e-bus trains with one driver only for heavy downtown routes. Two-unit articulated ICE units are currently used in many cities to reduce the number of very costly drivers by 50%.

Full employment does not need $125,000/year bus drivers. A few could be retained for the surveillance and security systems. Others could be used to install more charging stations, keep e-buses clean etc. The remainder would have to be retrained to do something else, such as manufacturing EV batteries, chargers etc..

Not too long ago, 70+% worked and lived on farms before more efficient machines arrived. Today, they are down to less than 4% and producing a lot more.

Roger Pham

A privatized company like UPS will not pay $125,000/yr for a bus driver. Human labor will be cheap because computerized machines increasingly are taking away jobs from people. We as human beings must get together and fight back for our livelihoods. All the computers and automation will be worthless if human beings will have no jobs! They are supposed to make our lives easier, not taking away our jobs.


RP...there so many other things to do than driving city buses, such as:

1. building-manufacturing city and school e-buses and chargers.

2. manufacturing improved batteries and FCs.

3. manufacturing and installing road side quick battery chargers and hydrogen stations.

4. manufacturing and installing on-the-move charging facilities on selected streets, roads and highways.

5. manufacturing and installing more high speed e-trains and Tesla's ultra high speed tubes.

6. manufacturing and installing many more domestic and large Solar systems with storage facilities.

7. manufacturing and installing many more Wind farms with storage facilities.

8. and many more etc.


USA's industries can do most of the above if government make it possible.

Mandating a 5% to 7.5% a year transition rate would create the essential demands and local industries would compete to do it at no cost to governments.

Of course current government revenues from fossil fuels would have to be replaced with a possible per mile travelled fee etc.

Roger Pham

Good point, HD, bring more manufacturing back here instead of outsourcing then overseas.

However, not many people are capable of precision jobs of heavy manufacturing or high-tech manufacturing etc. Highly-skilled labor is always in high demand.

The trend in the last many generations of high-birth rates in the no-skill or low-skill population (welfare: more babies, more welfare money) coupled with low birth rates of highly-skilled and professional population (birth control pill) will result in a society with increasingly lower and lower skill levels, yet with increase demand for services due to increase populations of "special-needs" people!

So, it is much better to give people work, any kinds of work, instead of a welfare paycheck for no work!


I have no doubts that local industries would find or train or re-train available workers to manufacture and install all above if demands were there.

It would also be possible to recruit workers from Asia and/or Europe. It has been done many times in the past.

Governments role is to make it happen with appropriate laws, regulations, tax credits etc.

Governments have to be more pro-active. That is where China does it much faster than we do. They try harder?

Roger Pham

China has 4x the population of the USA, thus a much bigger pool to select for skilled labor. Even then, the unskilled workers must be given something to do! Driving UPS-styled (United Passenger Service) bus with full safety equipments such radar-based lane assist and collision avoidance and GPS navigation and routing and wide-network communication can make the driving job much safer and easier...the computer practically guides the driver where to go and at what speeds and what route...even unskilled labor can do it!

So, ideally, computer technology should make unskilled labor more employable...not taking away jobs!

Where I live, daily traffic jam or slow-down in major "Freeways" (oximoron) is a very inconvenient fact of life that one must put up with to work in the big cities. So, the issue with traffic problems associated with too many private autos is a pervasive problem everwhere in the world, not just China. BEV's and FCV's won't solve this problem. However, if many people can ride on my proposed UPS system (United Passenger Service) to and from work daily, one UPS van of 20 passengers can remove 20 cars from the road yet taking the road space of no more than one car, thus 20:1 road space ratio. Fewer parking spaces will be required at the work place which will reduce land cost and infrastructure cost and will reduce urban sprawl and reduce the cost of doing business. People will still own private autos for trips after hours or weekends. And we are doing all this while increasing local job opportunity.

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