Navigant Research Blog

China’s EV and EV Batteries Policy: An Update

Christina Sookyung Jung — April 25, 2016

BatteriesWith some of the worst air pollution on the planet, China has been aggressively pushing for emissions reductions and sustainable development since the launch of its 12th Five-Year Plan. In March 2016, the 13th Five-Year Plan covering 2016 to 2020 was released. Some of the key goals include a 15% energy intensity reduction and an 18% carbon intensity reduction compared to 2015 levels. With air quality in the country being at such poor levels, the government is highly interested in new energy vehicles (NEVs)—referring to battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs)—to curb emissions.

Backed by government support, the Chinese EV market has made headlines in recent years. The country is on track to achieve its goal of putting 5 million electric passenger vehicles and buses on the road by 2020. Over 300,000 NEVs were sold in 2015, amounting to approximately 500,000 in cumulative deployment by the end of 2015. Plus, the government plans to increase the share of NEVs in government fleets from 30% to 50% in 2016.

New Stance on Subsidies

Although the Chinese EV market has made significant progress thanks to generous subsidies, the handouts have encouraged subsidy frauds as well. Finance Minister Lou Jiwei expressed concerns over the NEV industry’s heavy reliance on subsidies in January 2016. NEV development appears to be driven by policy incentives more than technological breakthroughs, to the extent that there has been a spate of media coverage about subsidy frauds in China in the last few months. For example, a company might assemble substandard NEVs and sell them to its own car rental company with the intent of receiving subsidies. The deficient NEVs are then left in parking lots and not put into actual use. Another common scheme is to sell license plates on the black market.

Consequently, the central government launched a fraud investigation and vowed to severely punish those involved in fraudulent schemes. Additionally, the government plans to end NEV subsidies after 2020 to encourage technological innovation. China plans to cut subsidies by 20% between 2017 and 2018 from 2016 levels and by 40% between 2019 and 2020, eventually leading to a phaseout after 2020.

Battery Technology Strategy

Chinese leaders are aware of the need to improve the country’s EV battery technology in order to stay competitive in the global NEV market. Therefore, the government’s decision to suspend subsidies for electric buses using nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) batteries is rather surprising. While most Chinese companies manufacture lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries, the global market prefers NMC or lithium manganese oxide (LMO) batteries for their superior performance and efficiency. Some Chinese manufacturers are making NMC batteries but have not yet mastered the technology yet—there were six reported cases of EVs with NMC batteries catching on fire last year.

This policy change is expected to affect NCM battery manufactures in China since subsidies can account for nearly 40% of the price of an NEV, and buses represent nearly half of the NEV market. In particular, South Korean battery manufacturers made major investments in new NMC battery production facilities in China. LG Chem formed a joint venture with two state-owned enterprises in August 2014 with plans to generate $1 billion in revenue by 2020. Samsung also formed a joint venture with Anqing Ring New Group and real estate investor Xian with plans to invest $600 million by 2020. Since subsidies will continue to be given for less-advanced LFP batteries, many Chinese battery manufactures will enjoy government support in the short run. However, China’s long-term battery technology strategy remains uncertain.

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