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China outpacing West in EV rollout, but numbers remain small: analyst

New Brunswick, New Jersey — China is far outpacing the West in the development and deployment of light-duty passenger and heavy-duty commercial electric vehicles, industry analysts and experts agreed Tuesday.

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But electric vehicles will still account for only about 10% of all global vehicle sales by 2030, according to experts attending the Precious Metals and Mobility symposium organized by the Institute for Precious Metals Industries.

"In the US, we see continuing increases in fuel economy through hybridization in all its flavors, and the slow introduction of EVs due to continued improvements in [internal-combustion engine] vehicles," Bruce Belzowski, managing director of the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute, said in a presentation.

Electric vehicles include conventional hybrid electric vehicles such as the Toyota Prius, as well as plug-in electric vehicles (PHEVs) and battery-powered electric vehicles (BEVs).



Those vehicles typically use some form of lithium-ion battery technology, and some analysts believe growing demand for EVs could strain existing supplies of lithium, cobalt and nickel.

Though estimates and forecasts differ, many analysts believe that palladium demand will remain strong for conventional hybrid-electric vehicles and PHEVs.

Those vehicles have engines that require catalytic converters to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and atmospheric pollutants, whereas pure BEVs require no autocatalysts.

"In China, they are leading in EVs and have the opportunity to transform the global auto industry, but they have a long way to go in terms of EV sales volume," Belzowski said.

China produced about 700,000 EVs in 2017, but Chinese annual vehicle sales totaled nearly 25 million that year, Belzowski noted.

Moreover, many of those EVs produced were heavy-duty commercial vehicles and buses developed to reduce traffic congestion, pollution and oil dependency in large metropolitan areas.

"It's still a small piece of the pie. There is momentum. The government is supporting it, but if the government is going to cut off subsidies in 2020 ... are they actually going to be able to generate enough momentum to continue the EV push after 2020?" he asked.

Chinese federal and provincial governments currently provide incentives such as tax rebates, and driving and parking privileges to buyers of EVs in large cities like Beijing and Shanghai. But officials have talked about ending the subsidies.

If the deployment of EVs continues, the world will look to China for EV innovation and consumer acceptance, especially since few people in China currently own a vehicle of any kind, Belzowski said.

"There are Chinese families that haven't driven any [kind] of vehicle; for them, vehicles are a whole new thing," he added.

--Nick Jonson, nick.jonson@spglobal.com

--Edited by Lisa Miller, lisa.miller@spglobal.com