At the last minute, new energy vehicles (NEVs) were marshaled retrospectively into a government work plan for the battle against pollution in 2014.
NEV use was bolted on to the government work report delivered by Premier Li Keqiang at the annual parliamentary session which ended on Thursday. With the potential to save energy and reduce emissions, the NEV industry will receive government support.
NEW ENERGY DRIVE
Decades of economic expansion have polluted China's air, water and soil, and the onus has shifted now from pollution to protection.
Some progress has already been made, and the general public have become more environment savvy, but pollution plays a big part in people's daily lives. Last month, smog covered nearly 20 percent of China's territory for a whole week.
At times like that, factories are shut down and construction halted. As a last resort, cars are pulled off roads.
Such expediency is singularly inconvenient for the public, and the authorities have been obliged to start being a bit more clever. While not exactly a revolutionary idea, vehicles that use alternative fuel and electricity are an option.
In 2010, NEVs began to subsidized in five pilot cities to the tune of 60,000 yuan (9,800 U.S. dollars) for a battery powered vehicle and 50,000 yuan for a hybrid.
Last year, nearly 18,000 NEVs were sold, 14,600 of which ran on batteries. Henceforth, NEVs will be promoted in 83 cities.
BUMPY ROAD AHEAD
Thursday's announcement means a new round of government support for the NEV sector is on the way, but the road ahead is not entirely free from obstructions.
Safety of NEVs is questionable; the streets are hardly lined with the electric chargers needed to keep these vehicles rolling along. There is a long way to go before the industry wins popular support and helps reverse environmental decay.
Earlier this year, some electric cars caught fire in China, sparking concerns about batteries. Several models from industry poster boy Tesla have burned up in the United States, but auto experts have tried to play down the safety issues, claiming that NEVs are less fire-prone than traditional cars with their large tanks filled with highly inflammable liquid.
According to the China Battery Industry Association, NEV batteries made by domestic producers are generally safe, as are Tesla batteries. Fires involving Tesla cars were caused by outside forces not the cars' own technical problems, said Wang Jingzhong, deputy director of the association.
Aside from convincing the general public that NEVs are safe, the infrastructure (electric chargers) is much thinner on the ground than omnipresent gas stations. A flat tire is one thing, a flat battery, quite another. No one wants to be marooned in the middle of nowhere.
Given the state of the infrastructure and relatively high price tag of NEVs, auto analyst Jia Xinguang reckons price-sensitive Chinese consumers are more inclined to follow the herd and choose a comfortable, low-priced gasoline vehicle.
Though NEVs are prized by their limited environmental impact, the last obstacle arises from environmental concern. How spent batteries are disposed of?
In a recent interview with news portal Sina.com, Zhong Faping, director of National Engineering Research Center of Advanced Energy Storage Materials, said that NEV batteries are so big -- 500 kg -- that their disposal is a real matter.