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EVs at China’s Central Party School! And Shanghai’s Jiading district’s EV Zone

November 5, 2013

China’s central government has tweaked its approach to growing the country’s New Energy Vehicles segment (see my blog of September 20 on latest NEV policy), but it still aims to have tens of thousands of battery electric and plug-in-hybrid electric vehicles on the road in a few years.

If you don’t think China is committed to EVs for the long haul, consider this.  In September of 2012, an “EV Experience Center” was established at the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.  The Party School is where promising candidates for leadership roles in China go to debate ideas. (The Central Party School has a Facebook page, though FB is blocked in China. Can you say irony?)

Of course they don’t debate any ideas in public.  But they can at least get it out of their system at the Party School.   Now, they can also drive an electric vehicle, which gives them some hand’s on experience as they debate what role EVs (or in Chinese parlance, NEVS or New Energy Vehicles) should play in China’s auto industry.

Meanwhile, local governments are doing their part to promote EVs with additional subsidies and incentives as well as research and development and data collection.  The efforts extend down to the district level.  One reason for district involvement is that it gives the districts a shot at some of those fat central government ministry budgets.  That doesn’t mean what the districts are doing isn’t valuable, however.

Take Jiading District, part of the huge Shanghai metropolis.  Jiading has had itself designated an “EV International Pilot Zone” within Shanghai, which is an “EV International Pilot City.”   A few weeks ago, I visited Jiading and met with Lucas Cao Yue, project manager in the New Energy Cause Department at the Shanghai International Auto City Group Co. (SIAC).   One of the first slides that appeared on the Powerpoint presentation he showed me on his laptop showed that Jiading has the stamp of approval from the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Information Industry Technology and the Ministry of Commerce.

Much more than in the U.S., the promotion of an electric vehicle industry in China is a government project. Why are those important? I asked.  “It means we have a chance to get part of their budget,” Cao explained.   The Ministries contribute 60% toward the budget of certain projects, Cao explained.  But Jiading still has to cover the remaining 40%, he added.

Finding the funds shouldn’t be a problem for Jiading.  Jiading’s Anting area, where SIAC has its offices, is home to a huge Shanghai Volkswagen plant, an F-1 race track, an automobile museum, and the research and development centers of many multinational suppliers.  They were strongly encouraged to open those centers in Jiading, my supplier friends tell me.   Jiading is planning a 120,000 square meter R&D port, with many foreign enterprises.

But Jiading really is doing some useful work where EVs are concerned.   The EV Zone is dedicated to “seeking the best integration between city, life and new energy vehicles.”  One issue it is already facing – one that cities in the U.S. are familiar with – is the best placement for charging stations.  Jiading has 800 public charging stations, said Cao.  But 40 are in one area, which isn’t working so well.  (About a dozen ring the building that houses the SIAC office, which seems a bit self-centered….)

The EV Zone also includes EV car-sharing, an EV rental plan, an EV service center that can import EVs without having to go through cumbersome Customs procedures, and free EV test drives to the public. Each month it holds an event to introduce the public to EVs.  To date some 80,000 people have tried out an EV, said Cao.

Some 80,000 people have taken test drives in EVs in Jiading.

Some 80,000 people have taken test drives in EVs in Jiading.

The EV Zone surveys those who take the test drives about their likes and dislikes regarding the vehicles, and their purchase intents.  It also has a fleet of 160 EVs that it collects usage data on. That data, and the user survey results, are shared with the automakers –both foreign and domestic – who are shareholders in Shanghai International Auto City Group Co. Ltd.

Other trials, such as the EV car-sharing, are just getting started.  Anting has 3 stations with 20 EVs that can be rented for an hour at a time, said Cao.   Cao said that Tongji University was managing the car-sharing program.  It paid a fixed price and is now renting them out on an hourly basis, he said.  Those EVs collect data that must be reported to the government.

Jiaotong University students at an EV car sharing site.

Jiaotong University students at an EV car sharing site.

The EV Zone has one battery-swapping station, run by the State Grid,  and one gas station that also offers charging, run by Sinopec.  It also has one station that supports bi-directional charging, allowing EVs to send energy back to the grid.  Domestic automakers Lifan and Zhongtai  contributed EVs that offer bi-directional charging, said Cao.

Different business models for selling EVs are also studied, and the area has an EV-only dealership, all in the pursuit of finding the best way to have a viable EV market, says Cao.  Like the central government, Shanghai International Auto City has discovered that its initial targets for EV usage may have been a bit high.  The demo base will have a 10,000 EV capacity by 2015.  But it is likely only about 2,000 will actually be on the road then, says Cao.   He is sanguine about the possibility of miscalculations, however.

“As a pilot city, it is an experiment,” he says.  “We have different ways to get to the target.  Even if it is the wrong way, this is good. If we explore some good ideas, we can promote this business model to China and the world!”

Follow up: My visit to Shanghai EDrive in China.

October 28, 2013

I visited Shanghai EDrive on October 24 as part of the Clean Truck and Bus Forum www. , sponsored in part by CalStart.  The visit confirmed what I had heard about EDrive  from industry sources; it is a well-run company.  The visit also confirmed my and many others’ suspicions that the growth of the electric vehicle sector in China will fall far short of the government’s goals, at least for the next few years.  The most recent New Energy Vehicle policy, which incentivizes commercial vehicles more generously than non-commercial vehicles will also result in a lopsided growth pattern. But that is not necessarily a bad thing.

shanghai edrive sign   The building, on the outskirts of Shanghai, looks like all the other white-grey multi-story buildings in the industrial zone.  Inside are clean rooms for manufacturing electronic controls and less-spotless but still clean rooms for the permanent magnet motors themselves.

We were greeted and given an introduction and tour by Dr. Zhang Zhouyun, vice general manager and senior engineer. EDrive has been growing like gangbusters since its establishment in 2008, with staff increasing 30-50% annually, he said. It has devoted 20% of its budget to R&D each year and holds 10 patents in China as well as many overseas patents.  In 2013 EDrive aims for 400 million RMB in sales.

Interestingly, it seems EDrive sees the market for mini BEVs taking off much more quickly than that for larger vehicles. Not low-speed BEVs, but those able to achieve higher speeds than the 25 mph or so LSEVs are typically capable of.  Some 180,000 units will be produced in China in 2014, EDrive figures.  The company aims to supply 28% of that market, or 50,000 units.

Shandong is currently conducting a test project with such mini electric vehicles, says Dr. Zhang.  Shandong already dominates China’s low-speed electric vehicle production; it seems Shandong figures that expertise can be leveraged into higher speed models.

Chery and Geely  are two companies that are planning volume production of the mini-BEVs, says Dr. Zhang.  Some domestic manufacturers are testing in-wheel motors on the mini EVs, he says.

As for passenger car PHEVs, five or six companies plan to produce them starting in 2015 and EDrive has contracts with some, including FAW and Chery. But the EDrive folks seemed to think the production levels would be very low.  They will mainly be test vehicles.

Dr. Zhang explains

Dr. Zhang explains EDrive’s technology to visitors from CalStart’s Clean Truck and Bus Forum in Shanghai in October, 2013.

The big growth in NEVs over the next few years, as EDrive CEO Dr. Gong mentioned in our interview, is commercial vehicles, the EDrive guys confirmed.

So, an interesting visit to a company that should do well if the Central government sticks to its guns and enforces the latest NEV plan.  But even at EDrive, an admission that all those announcements about NEV passenger cars are mainly for show and that volumes will be quite small for at least the next few years.  Still, as I mentioned up top, the new policy’s focus on commercial vehicles/ fleets is a good thing.   Applications are more apparent and with volume production some breakthroughs, or at least cost reduction on some components, should be possible.

EDrive a micro-history of China’s pursuit of electric vehicle dominance

October 11, 2013

While the Chinese government may be intent on growing the electric vehicle segment, Chinese consumers are not so keen to buy electric vehicles.  But that doesn’t mean companies in China that produce components for electric vehicles aren’t counting on the sector growing.  The just-released New Energy Vehicle policy is a big reason for that optimism. Local government support also plays a role.

The history of one of those companies, Shanghai EDrive, is a micro-history of China’s quest to be a global player in the electric vehicle field, and proof that the Chinese government is taking a long-term view in developing the sector.  If EDrive succeeds, it will mean China is succeeding in its electric vehicle ambitions as well.

Shanghai EDrive produces electric motors, controllers, and invertors for both traditional gasoline-powered vehicles and electric vehicles.  It has long benefited from government support for the electric vehicle segment.   I recently spoke with Dr. Gong Jun, president of EDrive, by phone and also exchanged emails with Jimmy Lin Renjie, who works with Gong, about the recent policy and EDrive’s future.

“Of course the new policy is good for our company,” Gong told me.

Now, I’m a skeptical person.  And I am certainly no engineer so can’t evaluate EDrive’s technology. But several industry friends have spoken well of EDrive.   Its growth strategy is, however, based on the belief that electric vehicles, first regular hybrids, then plug-in electric hybrids, then battery electric vehicles, will take a growing share of the vehicle market.   And of the government supporting companies that serve that purpose.

EDrive’s support from the government started with the 863 program.  The 863 program was launched by the central government in 1986 and has been part of every Five-Year Plan since.  Its goal is to help China “leapfrog” in certain technologies to become a world leader.  EDrive has also received funding from the Shanghai government.

The components it produces are used in both traditional internal combustion engine vehicles and electric vehicles, from hybrids to low-speed electric vehicles to regular battery electric vehicles.  EDrive is already profitable.  Its motors are in hybrids cars produced by companies ranging from Dongfeng  and FAW  to Brilliance , Geely , and Chery ; and in hybrid buses from just about every large Chinese bus maker you can name, according to materials EDrive sent me.  Ditto with the few pure electric vehicles being produced (but not BYD, which is highly vertically integrated) and many micro cars such as the QQ, it seems.

Eventually, when his company is big enough, Gong figures it will want to export.  One way it aims to grow is by listing on Shenzhen’s Growth Enterprise Market next year.  EDrive is preparing the materials right now.

EDrive has been in business since June of 2008.   It manufacturers to a client’s specifications and also does what Lin called “cutting edge” research and development of components in cooperation with universities.   It is receiving a growing number of orders related to components for battery electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, mainly buses right now, says Gong.  “Due to the new policy, we expect that will grow,” he says.

Gong is right, the recently released NEV policy should be good for EDrive.  If the central government is effective in implementing the policy, that is. Gong mentions in particular the mandate for 30% of new vehicles in municipal fleets to be New Energy Vehicles, which in practice will mean BEVs and PHEVs.  For details see my earlier blog on the policy.

What about the consumer market for electric vehicles?  That is more uncertain because of the lack of a charging infrastructure, Lin told me.  “The bottleneck for the development of passenger cars is the infrastructure such as the charging point,” he says.  “If the infrastructure is developed, the EV of passenger car will have a bright future.”

And it seems EDrive will be along for the ride.


China could learns from PG&E’s electric vehicle program

September 26, 2013

In July of 2012, I wrote about the just-released policy in China to promote new energy vehicles and fuel-efficient vehicles.  At the time, I mourned the lack of incentives for producing new energy fleet vehicles and suggested the government would have better served its cause with a policy that did that.  In the same blog, I talked about what Pacific Gas & Electric , a huge utility in Northern California, was doing to further alternative fuel vehicle research here in the U.S.

Well, a bit more than a year later the Chinese government has come out with a new policy to promote new energy vehicles and it focuses mainly on fleet vehicles, especially buses!  Glad Beijing got the word.  This blogging platform (i.e. WordPress) is blocked in China but those government officials and fagawei types probably have VPNs.

I wrote about the new policy in my recent ChinaEV blog, so in the interest of symmetry I’m going to talk about what PG&E is up to now re: alternative fuel vehicles.  Rather than reiterate everything I said last July, let’s just look at an event that just occurred, the unveiling of what PG&E says is the utility industry’s first plug-in electric hybrid Class 5 work trucks.

PG&E aims to convert all its Class 5 trucks to PHEVs

PG&E aims to convert all its Class 5 trucks to PHEVs

Those trucks were produced by Electric Vehicles International,  or EVI, a manufacturer located in Stockton, CA.  The transplant – it was based in Mexico – is a good example of how government support can help expand the commercial electric vehicle industry.  PG&E’s participation shows how the private sector can both take advantage of and propel development of EV technology.

EVI is a 20-year old company that moved to the California central valley city of Stockton from Mexico after current EVI president Ricky Hanna bought the company.  He switched EVI’s focus from light-duty EVs to heavy-duty EVs and moved operations to California about five years ago because of the state’s generous subsidies for electric vehicle makers.  Smart move – EVI has received $7 million in grants from the California Energy Commission.  It produces both range-extended electric vehicles (a type of PHEV) and battery-electric vehicles.

Just so you don’t have to re-read the previous blog (though of course you should), here is a bit of background on PG&E’s alt-fuel vehicle quest taken straight from that blog:   As one of the largest public utilities in the U.S., PG&E has a huge fleet—some 14,000 vehicles.  That’s a pretty big Petri dish for testing out new alternative fuel technologies, and PG&E has been doing that for years, says Dave Meisel, director of transportation for PG&E.

The utility has gotten much more active in testing alternative fuel technology vehicles in the last four or five years, he says, which makes sense because finding replacements for gasoline as a vehicle fuel has become a much hotter topic in the last four or five years.   PG&E isn’t doing this out of the goodness of its heart.  Partly, it is compelled by California law to have a certain percentage of low-emission vehicles in its fleet. But PG&E is also looking to save money.

Now, back to the present:  PG&E started working with EVI about four years ago, says Meisel.  It wants to try out EVI’s Class 5 vehicles – that’s like a Ford F450 or F550 truck.  PG&E works with other companies in the EV space including VIA , Efficient Drivetrains Inc ., and Altec .  All are located in California.

“We prefer to spend our money locally,” says Meisel.   (That’s nice since I pay taxes here and I prefer they stay in the state as well….).   “In 2013 we are going to buy $221 million worth of new vehicles, all purchased from somebody in California.”

PG&E has purchased four EVI REEV trucks.  PG&E estimates each truck will save PG&E over 850 gallons of fuel per year.  So the utility’s alt-fuel vehicle quest isn’t just to meet state government requirements, it also makes business sense.  Indeed, PG&E hopes to replace all of its Class 5 vehicles with REEVs, says Meisel.

“I think clearly that if we can validate the technology and we believe we can, if it delivers the results we believe it will deliver, we will be moving that tech into our fleet on large scale,” he says.  “It is too early to say who will supply the vehicles.”

As I wrote about before, what PG&E really likes in its trucks is exportable power, and it works with its EV manufacturers to up their exportable power capability.  Though the EVI trucks can export up to 100 kilowatts, the “holy grail” is really 125 kilowatts.  “If we can get a vehicle up to that it opens up a lot of possibilities for us,” says Meisel.

PG&E can use the fleet to provide power to a neighborhood when it does repairs instead of having planned outages.  Also, in emergency response situations the fleet could provide power.

“I handled the response to hurricane Sandy,” he says.  “We found that we were trying to move in larger generators.  When we tried to move them in from all over the U.S., we couldn’t put a dent in the amount requested vs. what was available.  If we had sent 400 hybrids, that is like moving a small power plant into New York.”  China take note….

China’s latest new energy vehicle policy may result in fresh EV tech for the world

September 20, 2013

The Chinese government just issued its latest New Energy Vehicle subsidy policy. Seems like the government has pretty much given up on trying to create a consumer market for new energy vehicles, which include battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.  That isn’t so bad, actually. Because the government’s focus has turned to the area where NEVs have real potential — public transportation and fleet vehicles.

One technology has been completely left out of the current policy – regular hybrid vehicles.  My friend Yang Jian mourns this omission in a column for Automotive News China. But I don’t think it is so bad.  The price of hybrids will soon come close to that of regular gasoline-powered cars. And if the hybrids can offer significant fuel economy then Chinese will buy them, just as Americans have.

Some details of the new NEV policy:

The policy covers 2013-2015.

The subsidies for NEV passenger vehicles are no larger, and decline over the next two years.  Battery electric passenger cars are eligible for incentives of up to 60,000 RMB, plug-in hybrid electric passenger vehicles up to 35,000 RMB in 2013.  Those amounts will decrease by 10% in 2014 and by 20% in 2015.

Hydrogen fuel cell passenger cars are eligible for incentives of 200,000 RMB. That amount will also decrease in 2014 and 2015.

Battery electric public transportation buses are eligible for up to 500,000 RMB in incentives.  Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle bus incentives top off at 250,000 RMB.

The ebus is already rolling around various cities and campuses worldwide.

BYD’s ebuses should do well under the new policy.

Commercial vehicles in public fleets are another important inclusion.  Mail, sanitation, garbage, and general goods battery electric vehicles receive a 150,000 RMB incentive.

There are target purchase volumes and guidelines for municipal governments:

In large cities and areas – mainly Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou it seems – the number of NEVs should reach no fewer than 10,000 by 2015.  All other cities and/or areas should have no fewer than 5,000.

When buying new vehicles for municipal fleets, at least 30% of the purchases should be NEVs.

In an important nod to the huge problem protectionism presents in growing the public transportation and fleet market for NEVs, the policy also says at least 30% of the purchases should be from companies outside of the region.

Those are the main points.  While it remains to be seen how rigorously the policy will be enforced, the subsidies may kick-start production of NEVs by the regional and national vehicle manufacturers.  Of course, they don’t have all the necessary technology to product BEVs and PHEVs. That could present a business opportunity for foreign firms with battery management system technology, for example. And for companies that can integrate the electric drivetrains into the rest of the systems, which has been a problem for Chinese companies.

Sure, it also shows that China’s central government hasn’t given up on becoming a leader in some kind of electrification technology.  Otherwise, why totally exclude regular hybrids from the policy? As Yang Jian points out, China still hasn’t given up on trying to be a leader in some electrification area and hybrids are already mature technology.

But Chinese automakers will need plenty of help from outside China to produce quality BEVs and PHEVs, so they are unlikely to become leaders in those areas anytime soon.  The volumes envisioned for local fleets could, however, result in new technologies being developed for China, technologies that the rest of the world could benefit from.  At the very least, volume production of some components should help bring the price down.

So, the new policy should benefit both China and the rest of the world.  Now to wait for the level of enforcement….

Buses seem BYD’s electric vehicle future, not just in China but worldwide

September 9, 2013

If you wonder what BYD is up to lately outside of China, electric buses seem to be the Chinese automaker’s thing these days.  It is also still hawking its much-maligned e6 pure electric crossover vehicle as a taxi.   Development of the dual-mode Qin (the current generation of BYD’s hybrid) seems to be treading water, however.  Perhaps BYD, like most Chinese automakers, is waiting for news of what the government subsidies for hybrids will be.

As I blogged about many months ago, BYD is focused on fleets for its electric vehicles here in the U.S.  Also,, it seems worldwide.  “BYD is in no rush to launch U.S. consumer sales,” BYD spokesman Micheal Austin told me via email.  “We are finding great success offering our long-range EVs for high-utility fleet applications.”

By high-utility, Austin means long-range so I guess that sentence is a bit redundant.  BYD’s website claims a 155 mile range for the Li-iron phosphate battery in its pure electric ebus. It has a 3-hour or 6-hour, or perhaps 5-hour, recharging time depending on the type of charger used.  I say perhaps 5-hour because the website cites both 5- and 6-hour times.  In any case, that’s nitpicking.  Around 5 hours.

The ebus is already rolling around various cities and campuses worldwide.

The ebus is already rolling around various cities and campuses worldwide.

BYD has been pretty successful at getting its electric bus into fleets around the world, including one in Quebec in Canada,  one in Israel, 10 in Long Beach, California, five in Los Angeles (with an option to buy up to 25), and 35 in Amsterdam.

A few months ago, BYD had the grand opening of a plant to produce electric buses in the city of Lancaster, CA, about an hour east of Los Angeles.  BYD’s contracts with Long Beach and Los Angeles use some federal funding so both have a Made in the USA requirement, meaning BYD must source at least 60% of the bus components from the U.S.A.  Stella Li, SVP of BYD and head of its North America operations, told me the local content may even higher.

I hear from a friend who works in logistics that BYD has just arranged to ship its first batch of batteries to the U.S. for those buses.   She speculates more shipments of other parts will follow. And, other sources in the EV bus industry figure that BYD will likely source the glass, seats, and air conditioners from China. I might add the wheels/rims given China’s large number of rim manufacturers.

BYD may make a decent electric bus.  I have always said the ebus was a good-looking bus, at least.  Nice interior, too.  As usual, I prefer to wait until the buses in international markets have been running for a while until I start gushing over them the way some EV sites have been.  But as I have stated before, I hope BYD succeeds with the buses. I like BYD despite the belief by some executives there, whose names will remain unwritten, that I hate the company.  Nonetheless, the proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

What of the e6 crossover, which is the current incarnation of BYD’s original pure electric vehicle, the e6 sedan?  Well, it seems the e6 is also destined for fleets for the time being, as I wrote about last year.

The order form is out there –Austin emailed me one. They are available to order for fleet use here in the U.S. though I do not believe BYD has gotten any orders here.  I asked to test drive the latest e6 and Austin said it wasn’t significantly changed from the version I drove a few years ago.

The latest generation e6 hasn't changed much compared to the last generation. BYD seems to still be working on it.

The latest generation e6 hasn’t changed much compared to the last generation. BYD seems to still be working on it.

There are e6 crossovers in taxi fleets outside of China, however. There are a few in Hong Kong and Thailand reportedly ordered three last year, though I don’t know if they are actually in use now.  Bogota, Columbia also recently ordered 45 e6s as part of its Biotaxi project, according to a press release.  Hope those taxies have bullet-proof sheet metal.  No, that’s not fair. I’m sure Bogota is safer than it used to be….

That leaves the Qin dual-mode aka hybrid vehicle. It seems to be in a state of limbo.  Perhaps BYD has joined most Chinese automakers in waiting to launch any new electric vehicles or hybrids until the central government issued its overdue updated new energy vehicle subsidy policy.  The new policy will reportedly subsidize regular hybrids at a higher rate than the current policy. But no one know.

In any case, the Qin isn’t listed on BYD’s website.   BYD showed the Qin, which is the latest generation of its hybrid vehicle, at the Shanghai auto show this year after it debuted at the auto show in Beijing in 2012.  Reports appeared in the gullible U.S. press about the Qin being launched in June 2013 with a sub-$30,000 (which I guess was converted from an RMB price the reporter heard somewhere) price tag.

There do seem to be some Qins driving around in South America, based on some comments from BYD execs here in the U.S. But the Qin likely won’t be seen in the U.S. this year or in 2014, said Austin.  So not sure if/when it will make an appearance here.

So how is BYD doing in the EV arena?  Okay, I’d say.  If we look at what it is actually doing now rather than what it said it wanted to do a few years back, BYD seems to be farther along than any other Chinese automaker – or any automaker when it comes to electric buses — in terms of getting its electrified vehicles onto the world market.

I still wish someone would do an independent analysis of BYD’s electric drivetrain, however….

Nissan Autonomous LEAF sets me dreaming of what could be in China

August 23, 2013

I have ridden in what should be China’s future. It would save countless hours stuck in traffic and countless lives.

A few days ago I was at the Nissan 360 media event here in California at the lovely Pelican Hill Resort in Newport Beach.  Automakers always host media at super-lux places.  That way at least we are in a good mood when we check out their vehicles, the thinking must be.   I had my own bungalow.  Larger than an apartment I lived in back in Hong Kong.  But I digress.

One of the vehicles available to drive, or in this case ride in, was the autonomous LEAF electric vehicle.     It looks a lot like the regular old LEAF, but it has 6 sensors arrayed at strategic points on the exterior.  Why did they chose the LEAF as the first autonomous vehicle, I asked the Nissan engineer who was not going to drive the vehicle.  “The technology is okay for an internal combustion engine car,” he said, “but the electric vehicle is easier to control because the motor is more reactive. It is a better combination.”

autonomous leaf

For those of you dreaming of well, dreaming, away a trip to the office in traffic-chocked Beijing or Los Angeles, forget it.  The “driver” does have to at least be alert – in this autonomous vehicle.  How about drunk drivers, I asked? Not in this version, but Nissan is working on technology that will detect if a driver is drunk, said the Nissan engineer.

Still, the LEAF Autonomous Vehicle detected and read speed limit signs,  avoided a large truck entering traffic in front of us, a pedestrian stepping out in front of us, and a lot of road furniture including cones and barriers,  and of course detected a red light and stop sign.   The valet function was pretty cool as well.  The “valet” had the key fob.  The “driver” simply left the car with the valet, he pressed the key fob, the car went and found a spot and parked itself.  Then, when the driver returned the valet pressed the key fob and the car returned.  How cool is that?

This version is not ready for prime-time. Among other improvements needed, said the Japanese engineer, is sensors with finer resolution.  The current sensors on the LEAF only detect at 30 to 40 centimeters, he said. Nissan wants plus or minus 1 centimeter.  “We are looking for a partner” with that technology, he said.

The autonomous vehicle is “an important step in a world of zero fatalities,” said Roel De-Vries, Nissan’s global corporate vice president of marketing.  Nissan’s has its twin zeros marketing thing – zero emissions and zero fatalities.  As I sat in the Nissan LEAF and it drove though the highway and urban courses, I got to thinking “Gee, this would be really great in China!” It is about as far from zero fatalities as any country in the world.

Imagine it.  Cars would actually stop at stop signs and red lights.  They would know how to merge on to a highway. They wouldn’t feel obligated to cut in front of you just because that space was there and needed to be filled in.  They would stop before they hit a pedestrian or bicycle or another car. They would know how to park.  It gave me shivers.

Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has said autonomous vehicles will be in Nissan showrooms by 2020. Please get them to showrooms in China sooner.  I didn’t ask if China was a target market, but no automaker can bypass China with a significant new product, so assume the autonomous vehicles will be there, too.  China is one of the top two countries in the world for traffic fatalities; India is right up there, as well.  The Chinese authorities put the number of traffic deaths in China in 2012 in the tens of thousands, but even the Chinese press says that number is low.  A more dependable source, Bloomberg Philanthropies, puts the number at 220,000 annually.   Bottom line: A lot of people die in cars or because of cars in China each year.

If you live there, you know why. Most Chinese are first-generation drivers. Chinese driving schools don’t teach defensive driving.  Road rules, including stop signs,  are treated more as suggestions than rules. After all, if one stops at a stop sign too long, someone else might get to a some goal that the driver desires first.  In China, it’s all about taking advantage of opportunity when it presents itself.

Nissan has said it may produce the LEAF in China.  Please do, and please make it an autonomously-driven LEAF! But also produce an autonomously-driven version of your best-selling model in China.   And price it so people will buy it. And make it impossible to override the system at stop signs! Otherwise it will be useless…..


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