The tiny electric car that Chen Xianping drives to work over bumpy country roads in Shandong Province says much about the hurdles facing China’s efforts to promote electric vehicles and the big car companies’ efforts to sell them.
It is not a beautiful machine. The Shifeng brand car resembles a plump Fiat Mini with oversized headlights and has a top speed of about 50 kilometers, or 30 miles, an hour.
But Mr. Chen’s little car has a big advantage: it cost only 31,600 renminbi, or about $5,000, far cheaper than the larger e6 made by the Chinese automaker BYD, which costs 369,800 renminbi. And it helps that it is not a real car in the eyes of the government.
“I had considered getting a gasoline car, but you need to have a driver’s license and pay insurance for that,” Mr. Chen said, beaming as he drove his car home from the village school where he is a teacher.
Beijing has made a dismal start toward its ambitious goal of putting 500,000 hybrids and electric vehicles on China’s roads by the end of 2015, rising to more than five million by 2020. Last year, a mere 8,159 were sold across the entire country, including those for government pilot programs for e-taxis and e-buses.