Published on April 17th, 2014 | by Guest Contributor


Inside Look At Electric Taxis Hitting China In Mass This Summer

April 17th, 2014 by  

By Byron Meinerth

Over the past couple of years, the most exciting developments in EV production and sales have generally happened in North America and Europe, but the focus is undoubtedly turning to China. While Chinese EV start-ups may not be glamorous and the country’s incentives have not made huge inroads in spurring private consumption, private-public partnerships for EV fleet implementation are gaining traction. By this summer, China will be home to the top three largest electric taxi fleets in the world, specifically Shenzhen, Beijing, and Nanjing.

China is well known for its massive infrastructure projects that it develops in anticipation of international events, with the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010 being two prominent examples. This summer, Nanjing will be hosting the Youth Olympics, and the city has been intensely remaking itself with new metro lines, new bike lanes, new electric buses, and new taxis. Since electric taxis are part of this expansion, last week I went to speak with Zhang Qi, who will be in charge of the 400 BYD e6s on Nanjing’s streets this summer.

Zhang Qi is an assistant manager at the Jiangnan Taxi Division (江南出租汽车分公司), which is a division of the Nanjing Transportation Exchange Company. In his current position, he works as a liaison between BYD, where he worked formerly, and Jiangnan Taxi. At the moment, his main focus has been overseeing a pilot program with a dozen electric taxis and making sure their company will be able to handle the upcoming expansion of more electric taxis.

Given that the focus of our conversation was electric taxis, we decided the best place to hold an interview would be in a BYD e6, with me driving. During our drive, I asked Mr. Zhang about issues that I thought would be most relevant to EV fleets in China. These included concerns that one would have about any taxi or EV, but their concerns and priorities were different than what I expected.

Driving range, which BYD rates at 300km of range, was more than the figure of 250km that the drivers gave, but the drivers whom I spoke with said this actually covered their average distances. Mr. Zhang said the greater challenge for them right now is installing enough charging stations in close range to where drivers are operating and making sure that drivers can charge quickly enough. Right now, a full charge takes about two hours. He said that construction has already started on large lots on the north, south, east and west sides of the city and will be completed by the beginning of the summer.

EV subsidies in China are smaller than years past, but taxi companies are in a good position to take advantage of EV benefits. Firstly, the majority of taxis in China run on LNG, and with natural gas spot prices recently hitting a record high, alternatives are looking even more appealing. Secondly, taxi companies have better to access to credit than individual consumers and can more effectively amortize the costs of operating a vehicle. Thirdly, the more one drives an EV, the faster one reaches the point at which savings kick in. Public transportation companies understand this quite well, since they’re running their vehicles daily.

When I asked Mr. Zhang to explain the primary motivation for moving to EVs, I was surprised to find out that climate change/CO2 ranked low. The Chinese are well aware that their electrical grids still primarily use coal; improving local air conditions, decreasing dependence on foreign oil and gas, and most importantly, fostering indigenous technological innovation were all more realistic and applicable goals, he said.

The e6 felt as comfortable as any other ICE taxi in Nanjing, and the trunk had enough room for my friend, Tom, to be able to sit inside. For the decidedly utilitarian purpose of being a taxi, the e6 will likely see further growth in China, particularly in urban areas with already high transportation costs.

About the Author: Byron Meinerth is a Boren Fellow based at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center in Nanjing, China, where he has largely spent his time analyzing the economics behind the energy and cleantech industries. He is on an unending hunt to find more mountain bike trails and beautiful swimming holes.

Images via Byron Meinerth

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  • hc

    Real operational data for e6 in ShenZhen, china.

    You can translate it to English.

    Key information:
    Shenzhen is operated from 850 e6 taxis, select 100 as the data sample.
    Cycling highest mileage close to 460K km.
    Today’s longest operating mileage 691.4 km.

    And you can goto details page. It lists the License plate number, Total mileage, Today’s mileage and charge time for all 100 e6.

  • JeffJL

    250km range on these beasts. My LEAF gets about 120km. How do they do it?

  • Will E

    how much money is made by driving the electric Taxis
    natural gas hits the roof
    therefore change to EV taxis.
    EV makes money while you drive.
    the EV Taxis make a lot more profit in dollars than LNG and gas Taxis.

  • JamesWimberley

    Taxis are platforms for ev awareness, even better than buses. A single taxi carries several dozen different passengers a day, all of whom will be interested in the novelty. They won’t experience the acceleration in ordinary city driving, but they will notice the quiet and the ride. No private citizen buys a bus, but many buy cars.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Good point. But I expect many will notice how the EV zips out into traffic and gets off the line when the light changes.

      • Ronald Brakels

        I’m pretty sure that plenty of customers will experience way too much acceleration for comfort in Shanghai taxis.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Apparently coal powered electricity plants are not a large contributor to China’s pollution problem. Air quality destroyers are largely vehicles and coal furnaces.

    (CO2 production by coal fired electricity plants is a different issue.)

    • JamesWimberley

      Evidence, Bob? If that’s true, we are all in trouble, as air pollution is driving action by China’s leaders – and if they think that coal generation is not to blame, they won’t slow it.
      Industrial and transport pollution may be the “low-hanging fruit” in any case.

      • Bob_Wallace

        “Today, there are approximately 600,000 industrial boilers in China that still use coal-fired boilers and direct coal firing for heating; most of these are in residential areas in urban centers in north China. Taking Beijing as an example, there are still 44,000 households with coal stoves in the western district within 2nd Ring Road; the impact of urban environmental pollution caused from these coal stoves is direct and severe.”

        “the coal use for power plants in is only 4.13% of the total coal use city-wide. The annual PM10 emissions from coal-fired power plants (including PM2.5 emissions) amount to only 0.005% of total PM10 discharged in the area.”

        “emissions to the air and hazards to human health from the pollutants emitted from running vehicles on city roads are most certainly orders of magnitude higher than the equal quantity of pollutants produced from thermal power plants distant from the city”

        And this applies to only air pollution. China’s coal-fired electricity plants are producing CO2. That is a separate issue.

        From what I’ve read I think China’s leaders are among the most climate change concerned of all the world’s leaders. Look at all the western countries where coal is fighting back and has some degree of governmental support.

        China continues to state that they will cap coal use. They apparently pushed the date out to 2017 from 2015 but are still talking about a maximum lower use cap less than 2012.

        They might look to the coal furnaces and heaters rather than power plants as the first places to cut use, but that’s fine. Cutting coal use anywhere cuts CO2 emissions.

        • Ronald Brakels

          Basically anywhere the US, Europe, etc, uses propane or natural gas China tends to use coal. But China is increasing its imports of natural gas, which will be used to replace coal in many processes. This is not a perfect solution, but it is an improvement. Australia will soon start using a gigawatt of electricity to compress natural gas for export to China. Currently most of that electricity is going to come from burning Queensland coal. But the good news is Queensland solar is biting coal on the bum, and hydro is increasing as a portion of grid electricity, so Queensland’s power is getting greener, even though the state has been mostly successful at keeping wind power out.

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