17 July 2011

China's investment in electric cars

Mark your calendars: China has chosen to gamble $1.5 billion (P64.95 billion) in its auto industry over the next 10 years, and see electric cars on its roads by 2015.

Talk about the biggest bet waged in the history of auto industry.

A bet because only the world's leading car makers can compete in a market accustomed to ‘learning’ from western technology. BMW, which is the world's most sustainable car company (Dow Jones Sustainability Index), already has some 300 engineers working on a technology (hydrogen-powered cars) that could supplant electric cars one day. It could also make cars—such as the 2012 BMW 1 Series—that saves more energy than fossil-fuel burning cars produced by its rival car makers.

Most Chinese cannot afford to buy a car of any kind, too. So the bet will depend whether the government will release the brakes on its economy or it will impose old-style communist regulations. Alpha Lujo, for instance, makes low-cost electric cars that cost $18,000. It would export to Australia sometime later in the year, meeting safety standards that could also pass in the United States and Europe.

So until a full scale demand for clean cars is more clearly established, the Chinese electronic-vehicle sector will remain a gamble, a choice between the Alpha Lujo and the BMW.

The Philippine connection

A little over three months ago, Ismael Aviso, 54, is known only through a couple of YouTube videos showing a stationary, skeletal-looking car with an engine fed with power from a box of capacitors and a thick, horizontal antenna.

Today, the mineral water businessman and electric car inventor from Navotas City is also featured in the Pure Energy Systems Wiki (PESWiki) who considered him as ‘the next big thing in green technology.’

“Nations all over the world are making a stake on electricity-powered cars. Pinoy e-car technology is better, cheaper and more efficient. We should not be left out; instead of importing this technology, we must employ this know-how to build our own e-cars and sell it to the world.”

Petroleum-guzzling vehicles can turn into electric through repackaging this fuel-less car invention into a conversion kit. But that is if ‘the Philippine government can help [Aviso] gain an easy way to get a huge loan from a bank’ to help him ‘focus on producing conversion kits.’

Another Filipino inventor, Gerry Caroro, built eight prototypes of “G Car,” which costs as little as P280,000, in his West Avenue workshop in QC.

The first kind runs on a 48-volt, deep cycle-type battery that could only consume about P40 worth of electricity when plugged to a 220-volt power source for eight hours. The car can then cover up to 80 km.

Another can ‘seat two persons in front and two more at the back’ and ‘could go for a maximum of 40 kph’—perfect for short rides.

There is also a model that can run on both battery and gasoline, and another one on solar energy that has solar panels installed on the vehicle’s roof.

Inspired by the Philippine Eagle, G Cars have front hoods in beak-shaped pattern and doors that swing open at an angle like wings.

Only support

Filipino inventions can get only P178,000 funding ‘given every November to celebrate National Inventors Week (NIW).’

“Obviously, this is not enough [that] is why a lot of my colleagues were forced to seek support from abroad,” Ronald Talion, spokesperson of the Filipino Inventors Society, lamented.

In collaboration with the Quezon City Parks Development Foundation Inc., the G Cars can be ridden inside the Quezon Memorial Circle for P30 per lap.

The future of electric cars, it seems, relies not only on whether their purchase and use will catch on, but also on how good the car batteries can become: how much power they can hold, and for how long, has long been the technology's main stumbling point. GM's plans to build a lithium-ion battery plant in Michigan to assemble battery packs could presage a new technology race among the big three and companies in nations like India and China to see who can first build the battery that will make affordable, long-driving electric cars a reality. ~http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1871282,00.html


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