Electric Vehicles Team Update #1

This post is by Geena Chen, William Woo, Sophia Wu, Fay Yang

What did you do?
Yesterday we rode our bikes to three different sites around Tsinghua University to document our observations of electric vehicles in Beijing. First we stopped at a courtyard of elderly people’s apartments. Because citizens over the age of 60 are forbidden from driving gas-powered vehicles by law, many elderly citizens choose to drive electric vehicles. In the parking spaces around the buildings, we took pictures of six low-end electric vehicles, which were all refitted three-wheel bikes. We were not able to find any vehicle owners to interview at these sites, but William shared his expertise about the vehicles as we walked around so that we could all get a better idea of what the EV landscape is like in Beijing.

Our second site was an EV rental and charging station called Ecar. The parking lot was full, showing us that nobody had rented a vehicle at the time we were there. We took photos of the charging equipment and tried to speak with the employee on duty. Though we didn’t find out much, we plan to return when we have prepared interview questions.

Third and last, we went to The Great Electric Bike World, a store that used to carry four-wheel electric vehicles but now does not. We took photos of the different brands and varieties of electric bikes and scooters sold at the store, and spoke briefly with the store employees. We also plan to return there in the future.
Today, we spent the day in the classroom figuring out what future direction we want to take with our research. In our brainstorm we came up with research directions for users, businesses, NGOs, and government, but in the end we decided to focus on user research because we do not have easy access to information about the other main players in the EV scene. Our planned timeline is copied at the end.
Why does it matter?
Pollution in Chinese cities is severe, and petroleum will inevitably run out at some point in the future. In as many areas as possible, China is trying to decrease its dependence on nonrenewable sources of energy. Electric vehicles do not emit pollutants like petroleum vehicles do. Though EV are powered by electricity that is currently generated by burning coal, EV have the potential to use electricity provided by renewable energy sources in the future. In addition, battery and electric power technology are relatively mature technologies in China compared to hybrid engine technologies. Every year, users of EV increase significantly, and the government is taking steps to implement policies that will further encourage EV ownership. We believe it is important to research current barriers to increasing ownership and car sharing of EV so that future transitions to EV can go smoothly.

Where will you go from here?
We hope to investigate the main question of why both electric vehicle ownership and shared car programs have not yet taken off in Beijing. We plan to interview current EV owners, employees and/or a manager at Tesla, academics and researchers who specialize in the topic of EV, and those who work at charging and rental stations. In terms of a timeline, we hope to complete our interviews and online research by the end of Tuesday, continue to fill in gaps in our research on Wednesday, and start preparing our deliverable materials on Thursday and Friday.