As the purchase of clean cars and the charging devices stations they need is partly financed by cities, An said that municipal governments have little intention to support automakers that do not contribute to the local economy.
Municipal governments do not bend the rule even if local auto companies cannot produce enough to feed the city's demand, he added. "Their attitude is that 'If you want to get our market, you have to exchange it with investments.'"
Such attitudes, An and other experts say, have prevented Chinese clean car producers from mass production. And the forced buildup of factories also resulted in massive resources being wasted, widening the know-how gap between Chinese carmakers and their Western rivals.
To be sure, there have been some positive results. About 11,000 hybrid buses, pure electric cabs and other types of clean cars are running on China's roads as a result of the program. It also helped develop more ways to gain customer acceptance, including a business that allows drivers to try their hand at clean cars without buying them.
In 2010, Zotye New Energy Auto began leasing its electric cars in eastern China's Hangzhou with a hope to market this new product. Lured by a similar rental fee and four-fifths cheaper expenses for each kilometer driven compared with petroleum-powered cars, daily commuters welcomed those electric cars cheerfully.
Long list of lessons learned
But the rental business was sitting on a big loss due to hefty upfront investment, and the company was hesitant to provide more, said Feng Yanjie, Zotye manager.
Then the city's clean car promoters stepped in and backed up the rental business with government subsidies large enough to cover half its electric car purchasing costs as well as part of the charging expenses. That led to an increase in the number of electric cars Zotye leases, from a dozen to 100.
Some of those who rented an electric car later became buyers, Feng said. At the same time, the company is using the project to gather market feedback and make adjustments to the vehicles.
Chinese automakers are not the only ones that benefited. Liu Zhi, transportation specialist at the World Bank's Beijing office, said policymakers here learned more about the complexity of promoting clean cars as the program has shed light on problems in the implementation.
The long list of the learned lessons includes missing standards, accurate surveys on what drives public acceptance, and the need for ways to motivate manufacturers while weeding unqualified players out of the market.
While admitting its downsides, Liu said he does not consider China's clean car promotion program a failure. He added that "the important thing isn't to put as many clean cars on the road as planned, but to recognize problems along the way and leverage the learned lessons to develop future solutions."
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500