Giving incentives to potential buyers is a good start, but there's more to be done
I was feeling revved up after I read in METRO that people who buy electric cars, or e-cars, will be able to take a detour around the city's license plate lottery. What a breath of fresh air the idea is.
For those who missed it, a spokesman for a Chinese automaker told reporters recently that, in addition to subsidies aimed at encouraging drivers to switch to clean-energy models, would-be electric car drivers will be able to get on the road right away if they buy one, without having to wait in line with all the others hoping to come up trumps in the license-plate lottery. It's just the sort of policy we need to give the industry a shove out of the garage door and help it get into first gear in the capital.
An industry insider quoted in METRO said the subsidies are pretty significant as well. A Foton Midi has a starting price of 300,000 yuan, which is more than twice the price of similar but gas-guzzling models. However, the subsidies will knock the price down to about 180,000 yuan, which makes it comparable.
I'd love to see the price of e-cars brought down even more, so no one is forced to be out of pocket for doing the right thing and electing to get behind the wheel of a car that doesn't drive a hole through the ozone layer. Hopefully, the government will continue to ramp up those subsidies until the right choice is also the most economical one.
Of course, the other thing that is holding many people back from picking an e-car as their next ride is the fact that there are so few recharging stations on city streets. It's bad enough seeing the gas light flashing on the dashboard and experiencing that knot in the stomach as you wonder whether you will make it to the nearest gas station on the vapor left in your tank, but it's got to be a whole lot worse to be stuck in traffic in an e-car with the realization that the vehicle has about as much juice left in its battery as an overused electric shaver and knowing that the nearest recharge station hasn't even been built yet. Three battery swap stations and 16 recharge points are under construction but not yet in existence.
The government's plan to build more recharging stations, and build them in a hurry, is another positive step in finally getting environmentally friendly cars moving in our city. But I think there is even more that the government can do to make sure more of us want to drive e-cars.
One big plus would be being able to avoid traffic jams and one way to do that would be to make it legal to drive e-cars in bike lanes. I'm a cyclist and I have to admit I really hate it when cars use the bike lane (and then invariably honk me out of their way), but I think I could make an exception if those vehicles were e-cars. Such a move should be backed up with more enforcement, to make sure e-car drivers are the only ones that get waved through when they use the bike lane and other drivers are fined.
The other thing the government could do to give the electric car industry a boost would be to improve its image. Instead of making people feel like real losers for driving such strange-looking little vehicles in a country where everyone wants something big and German, the government could help e-car drivers feel like the heroes they are.
One way to do that would be to show people that others they respect drive such cars. The government could encourage film stars and pop icons to drive e-cars and show the rest of China that it's a cool thing to do. Better yet, maybe we could see some senior politicians stepping out of e-cars as they turn up for official functions.
With such examples leading the way the car-loving public will soon follow suit, and before long we'll have e-car traffic jams at all those lovely new recharging stations.