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China steps up electric vehicle drive to lift nation’s ‘new normal’ economy

China appears focused on rapidly developing an ecosystem for electric vehicles, which includes a surge of charging points on its expressways and a hi-tech manufacturing upgrade.

Some of the country’s top rated expressways, including the Beijing to Shanghai corridor and the Beijing to Macau link via Hong Kong will host charging stations every 50 kilometers. The government-owned State Grid Corporation says that its present move is part of an ambitious plan.

A woman demonstrates BYD's new charging and discharging technology on a BYD e6 electric car during the 2012 Beijing International Automotive Exhibition in Beijing, China, Monday, April 23, 2012.

By 2020, the company hopes to build 10,000 rapid charging stations and 120,000 charging posts across 202 cities and 36,000 kilometer of expressways. Aware of the herculean task, the firm issued a statement on Friday, inviting private and public investors to join it as partners.

Electric vehicles are part of the vanguard of China’s innovation-based ‘new normal’ economy, which is meant to combat the slowdown in its low-tech manufacturing and drop in exports.

China’s State Council or Cabinet wants one million ‘green cars’ to hit the domestic market by 2020. Over the next five years after that market share should jump to 80 per cent, when three million electric vehicles are produced, according to plans. High speed trains, robotics, manufacture of computer numeric control (CNC) machines, bio-medicine, aerospace industry, ocean engineering and shipping are other focal areas that are meant to lift the Chinese economy to the next level.

The establishment of the massive infrastructure, which will energise China’s highways and cities, will not come cheap. The state-run newspaper, China Daily, reported that a charging post with 10 chargers costs approximately $767,000, excluding land-use fees.

In parallel, China’s innovation hub, Shenzhen, the starting point of the country’s reforms in 1979, is likely to become one of the headquarters for the manufacture and distribution of electric cars. Three companies —Harmony Futeng, the electric carmaker from the stables of Tencent Holdings, the internet giant famed for its Wechat messaging app — along with Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry Company, and China Harmony Auto Holding, a luxury car dealer , may converge in Shenzhen to form the new venture.

The financial newspaper 21st Century Business Herald reported that Tencent is already headquartered in the city and Hon Hai has production facilities in Shenzhen.

Harmony Futeng has already showing signs of joining the “big boys,” by hiring Carsten Breitfeld, former BMW i8 project manager, as the company CEO. Daniel Kirchert, former China head of premium brand Infiniti has joined him as Chief of Operations (COO). The company wants to start mass production by 2018, but meeting that tight time line may not be easy, the daily reported. Nevertheless the new venture is showing good promise, with Hon Hai expected to pool in its expertise in design and manufacturing. Tencent has already established strengths in Internet features, while China Harmony will lead in the sales and promotion pitch.

The electric vehicle segment could soon become a crowded field. For instance, the Beijing-based streaming company Letv has is leveraging its linkage with a Silicon-Valley start-up, which has unveiled its concept electric car in the United States.

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