Worsening air pollution in major Chinese cities has overshadowed the annual session of China's national lawmakers. Pollution control once again became one of the heated topics for panel discussion among the deputies of the National People's Congress over the past few days.
Some delegates — many of whom are from the automotive industry — have taken the opportunity to advocate electric cars as a part of the solution. But will it be easy to convince China's motorists to turn electric?
During China's annual legislative session, Wan Gang, Minister of Science and Technology took the lead in promoting new energy vehicles by using an electric car as a commuter vehicle.
"Our ministry's two electric cars are very popular. My colleagues are more willing to take them, because every kilometer they travel means a reduction in PM2.5 emissions, compared to gas vehicles."
In the meantime, Miao Wei, China's Minister of Industry and Information Technology, announced that the subsidies for new energy cars will be extended by three years.
"It should not be a problem to extend the policy. Before, most new energy cars put into use were buses. But it's good news that now more private buyers are opting for new energy cars."
China started promoting new energy vehicles in 25 cities in 2009, with public transport used as the pilot zone.
As of last year, nearly 28,000 new energy vehicles were sold and 80 percent of them were buses. But the number is far below the government's target of more than 500,000.
Besides the central government's subsidy, some local governments like Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen also have local subsidy policies. For example, an electric car in Shanghai can be subsidized for a total of 100,000 yuan — that's almost a third of what it costs for a domestically produced mid-range sedan.
But still, consumers have their concerns.
Yang Kai, a driver in Beijing says he worries about the quality of the battery.
"I am worried that perhaps the battery can only be used for two to three years. And if it costs me 30,000 to 50,000 yuan to buy a new battery, I won't buy an electric car."
National lawmaker Chen Yunhua, who is also chairmen of the Jiangsu Yueda Group Company, says technology is the key to making private new energy cars go mainstream.
"I think China's new energy vehicle technology is immature, including the battery, electric control and electromotor. Car manufactures must recognize that new energy vehicles are a developing trend in the auto industry. If they don't step up efforts to develop technology now, they will find themselves in a passive situation in the future."
National lawmaker An Jin, chairman of Jiang Huai Auto Company in Anhui Province says the infrastructure for electric vehicles is another major problem.
"Although electric vehicles can't go far yet due to the battery's weakness, they already can meet the needs of buses and daily commuting. The problem is that it's not convenient for the car owners to charge the battery. So the governments should build up sufficient electric charging posts."
So far the State Grid has built more than 80 charging stations as well as over 7,000 charging posts in cities where electric cars are being promoted. The number is said to be increased 30 times by the end of 2015.