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Meet Beijing's first all-electric car, with a hefty price tag

Meet Beijing's first all-electric car, with a hefty price tag

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BEIJING -- China's first all-electric car goes on sale, but would locals prefer a BMW?

BEIJING -- China’s first long range all-electric vehicle, the BYD E6, finally went on sale in Beijing this week. The E6 is a five-door hatchback, boasting a top speed of 87mph and driving distances of up to 190 miles on a full charge, according to BYD.  But the E6 looks unlikely to win the acceptance of Beijing’s status-conscious car buyers.

The E6 went on sale today for just over 360,000 RMB (about $56,000 USD), a BYD retailer in Bejiing said. The car is eligible for government subsidies, which bring the price closer to 260,000 RMB (about $40,000 USD): still more than six times the average annual wage in Beijing. That puts the E6 in direct competition with luxury cars from brands such as BMW and Audi.

At that price, the E6 is unlikely to find many buyers in Beijing. “The kind of person who can afford [the E6] is going to want a car which provides more utility and prestige“ Levi Tilleman-Dick, a researcher focusing on the East Asian electric car market at John Hopkins university, said.

BYD (which stands for "Build Your Dreams") has been enormously successful in China, and it makes the countries best-selling car, the F3. The company’s success mostly rests on low prices: the F3 retails at just 52,000 RMB (approx. $8000 USD), but Chinese consumers also think of BYD's cars as less reliable than foreign brands. The company will have to shed its low-cost, low-quality image if it is to compete with the likes of BMW.

Wealthy-yet-environmentally-conscious middle-class consumers, the type who might buy a Toyota Prius in the US or Europe, don’t currently exist in China. “In China there’s not the same kind of green halo around electric vehicles,” Tilleman-Dick said. “And there’s not the same kind of guilt associated with driving a gas-powered vehicle.”

A charging station in Beijing, not currently in operation.

Lack of charging stations in Beijing also scares off potential customers. China’s state grid plans to build 80 charging stations in Beijing by the end of the year, a tiny number in a city of almost 20 million people. “I wouldn’t recommend buying an electric car, because charging it will be too inconvenient,” Ni Yumei, a saleswoman at a car showroom in southern Beijing said, waving encouragingly in the direction of a line of SUVs.

As well as receiving government subsidies, those buying the E6 will also be exempt from limits on car purchases in Beijing. The system began this year, and aims to cut the number of new cars bought in the city from 800,000 last year to 240,000 this year, by limiting the number of new license plates issued by a lottery system. But buyers of the E6 will be guaranteed a license plate without participating in the lottery, which should be an extra incentive for Beijingers to turn electric.

Beijing’s government plans to put 100,000 electric cars on the city’s roads within five years. But the low-prestige enjoyed by electric cars will still prevent many Beijing residents from buying the E6. “Most people I know wouldn't think of an electric-vehicle as a real car,” Zhang Xu, a graphic designer said. “They’re too slow” he said “and they just don’t get you the same kind of respect."

Pictures: Autocity.cn; TheBeijingReviewer

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Tom Hancock

Correspondent (Beijing)

Correspondent, Beijing Tom Hancock has written for Geographical Magazine, The Asia Society, China Dialogue and AsianCorrespondent.com. He previously worked at CNN's Beijing bureau. He holds a degree from the University of Cambridge and studied at The Renmin University of China. He is based in Beijing, China. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure