Friday, November 22, 2013

Electric vs hydrogen: China is battleground for auto giants

(Reuters) - German auto giants Volkswagen AG , BMW and Daimler see China's future as being electric - encouraged by generous government subsidies - but that bet puts them at odds with some of their Asian rivals.
The two Japanese heavyweights plan to start selling their hydrogen vehicles in 2015, brushing off electric technology as being good enough only to power tiny city cars.
On the eve of the Guangzhou show, Volkswagen said its brands, including Volkswagen and Audi, plan to launch a total of more than 15 near-all-electric plug-in cars by 2018, many of which will be locally produced.
Daimler said it was also on track to launch an all-electric car next year under a new China-only brand called Denza, which the German company operates jointly with Chinese battery and car producer BYD Co
The two concepts have polarised the industry.
Fuel cell cars can run up to five times longer than their all-electric counterparts, but come with a heftier price tag.
But unlike electric vehicles which can be recharged from home as well as charging stations, fuel cell cars must stop at refilling stations. The hydrogen stations are costly to build, at about $6 million apiece.
"We forecast high volumes in this area," Jochem Heizmann, head of Volkswagen Group China,
BMW and its local partner Brilliance Auto unveiled a jointly developed all-electric battery car in Guangzhou. The two companies plan to start leasing the car next year under a new jointly run China-only brand called Zinoro.
"Toyota believes the industry isn't likely to come up with breakthroughs to make all-electric cars a viable solution any time soon," said Yale Zhang, head of Shanghai-based consulting firm Automotive Foresight. "Unlike China, some countries have taken a more flexible approach, rather than setting the path on one solution too early."
Toyota, in particular, thinks all-electric car technology is good enough to power only tiny city cars - not powerful enough for larger cars.
At this week's Tokyo Motor Show, Toyota unveiled a fuel cell concept sedan with two hydrogen tanks and a driving range of 500 km (310 miles). The car, it said, would sell for 5 million to 10 million yen when it goes on sale in 2015.
Honda also unveiled a five-passenger hydrogen fuel cell vehicle at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week. By his own admission, the company's chief executive of its U.S. business, Tetsuo Iwamura, expects uptake to be slow due to poor infrastructure.
Nissan Motor (7201.T) plans to sell a fuel cell car in Japan and North America starting in 2017, but like Volkswagen, sees electric technology as the future in China, according to Ren Yong, a senior executive of Dongfeng Nissan Passenger Vehicle Co, Nissan's Chinese venture with a local partner.
Nissan plans to start selling a locally developed electric car in China under the Venucia brand as early as next year.