The great boom in Chinese auto ownership has largely occurred over the last 10 years in a society that was for decades divided into a small ruling class and a largely level working class – the car is the first true status symbol in the new market economy, which allows citizens to own property like automobiles.
The automobile is not simply a utilitarian means of transportation – exotic and luxury models are extremely popular among the newly successful quasi-capitalists and even those who cannot afford Bentley or Rolls Royce automobiles are still fully aware the car they drive says volumes about who they are in the evolving Chinese world.
Consequently, an electric car doesn’t say they have made it, but rather that there is something wrong or funny about them in a society that has only recently foregone virtually ubiquitous conformity.
According to a post by Nathan Domey of the Detroit Free Press, Chinese citizens are simply not responding to governmental incentives to promote electric vehicles.
In the US, even with a current trend to hybrid and electric vehicles, they still add up to only 3.4 percent of the market. Obama has begrudgingly given up on the goal of a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 – it simply is not happening.
Advances in internal combustion engines and clean diesel powertrains have postponed any mass migration to the alternative drive system in the US. That’s despite the fact that in California and certain other areas an electric vehicle like a Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt or even a Toyota Prius denotes a certain level of green cachet, implying an admirable concern for sustainability and perhaps a bit of fiscal acumen.
Such an attitude is completely absent in China today, even though the Chinese are genuinely concerned about air quality, at least at the upper levels of government.
Nevertheless, the current Chinese administration will continue efforts to promote the adoption of zero-emission vehicles. Of course, since the main sources of smog in Chinese cities are almost equally divided among coal burning power plants, vehicles and construction, it remains unclear what impact a significant move to electric vehicles would have.
Novels are filled with examples of the licentious behavior of slaves when first they taste freedom, and China’s people will take a while to acclimate to their new empowerment after being held back by a repressive regime for so long.
Obviously, the establishment of a supporting infrastructure to power electric cars is as much of an issue in China as it is in the US, and we are way ahead of the natural habitat of the panda in those terms.
American auto manufacturers are heavily invested in the Asian nation and if their efforts to lessen emissions, improve efficiency and adopt alternative drive systems are to work, it will take greater acceptance by the enormous and still not fully developed Chinese market.
Let’s hope something works before great clouds of noxious smog begin to cross the Pacific Ocean to our own West Coast cities, many of which still have issues of their own with overall air quality.
What if Marshall McLuhan was right and we do live in a Global Village?
Source: USA Today