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Associated Press photos
Charging technology is demonstrated on China’s BYD e6 electric car at a show in Beijing.

Electric-car prowess eludes China’s grasp

A lack of charging stations is causing “range anxiety” – fears a car might run out of power, leaving the driver stranded.

– China’s leaders are finding it’s a lot tougher to create a world-beating electric car industry than they hoped.

In 2009, they announced bold plans to cash in on demand for clean vehicles by making China a global power in electric car manufacturing. They pledged billions of dollars for research and called for annual sales of 500,000 cars by 2015.

Today, Beijing is scaling back its ambitions, chastened by technological hurdles and lack of buyer interest. Developers have yet to achieve breakthroughs and will be lucky to sell 2,000 cars this year, mostly taxis.

The government has hedged its bets by broadening the industry’s official goals to include cleaner gasoline engines.

The government has repeatedly changed targets because the “technology isn’t advancing quite as fast as people had hoped,” said Joe Hinrichs, Ford Motor Co.’s president for Asia, at this week’s Beijing auto show.

The government has yet to lower sales goals that ramp up to 5 million vehicles a year by 2020. But officials including Premier Wen Jiabao started acknowledging last year that progress was slow and developers need to improve quality instead of rushing models to market.

About 13,000 all-electric and other alternative energy vehicles are being tested in 25 cities, but that is “still small despite government subsidies,” the deputy director of the Ministry of Science and Technology’s electric vehicle bureau, Zhen Zijian, said in March, according to the business magazine Caixin.

China’s most advanced developer, BYD Co., in which American investor Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Corp. owns a 10 percent stake, says its electric e6 sedan can travel 190 miles on a charge, similar to Western models.

BYD has sold 300 taxis and 200 electric buses used in the southern city of Shenzhen, a center for business and technology near Hong Kong, according to Henry Li, general manager of its export division.

BYD has invested heavily in research and has thousands of engineers working on battery and motor technology.

“We think our EV (electric vehicle) platform is one of the most advanced in the world, and our capability for mass production is quite high,” Li said.

But as for the rest of the industry, “there are not many manufacturers with really reliable or commercialized products,” he said.

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