Electric Vehicles, Team Update #2

Project update by Geena Chen, William Woo, Sophia Wu, Fay Yang

New discoveries

We discovered firsthand at the Tesla showroom that Tesla vehicles are very intentionally marketed towards an elite set of users. In the front and back trunks of the display Teslas were an expensive foldable bike and a duffel bag of golf clubs. The wall advertisements also showed a Tesla parked at a golf course. The images advertised the Tesla as a luxury plaything.

On the other hand, the grandfather we spoke to on the street brought the discussion back to practicality. His three-wheel electric bike, which is able to squeeze through traffic and requires low costs to purchase and maintain.

At Ecar, we were surprised to learn that the rental car lot could get rented empty between 7 and 8 pm every day. Both times we visited Ecar during the day, and the lot was full with unused rental cars. The manager on duty had many opinions about the future of electric vehicles in China. He said that the government has most power to promote EVs, but the government’s effort is not enough alone. The main problem facing Beijing’s more widespread use of EV is the shortage of charging stations and the shortage of space to build them. The Ecar manager said that private individuals, businesses, and real estate developers should collaborate with government to build charging stations on their existing plots of land. He brought up an interesting comparative perspective, which is that Japan has a charging station every 3 kilometers in its cities.

[Two graphics: mind map and journey map]

Based on your fieldwork, we have several new questions about your topic:

  • What features of the EV market in Chinese cities are unique to China, and why?
  • What are obstacles to increased usage of EV in Chinese cities?
  • How might private real estate development companies work together with government to build more charging stations in the city with existing forms of land use?

We plan to continue interviewing users to get a better picture of these questions.

What did we do?

Since our last blog post, we have conducted and recorded three interviews and taken more photos at the interview sites. On Monday, we went to the Tesla Showroom in Beijing. There we spoke to a businessman named Perry Mei, who was there to try out a Tesla for purchase as his sixth car. We asked a wide array of questions about his personal decision to purchase a Tesla and what he thinks of the present and future market of electric vehicles in China.

Today, we interviewed the man behind the desk at Ecar, the EV rental and charging station near campus. He gave us a good idea of who is renting the EVs, at what times, and for what uses. He also gave us a better idea of the specifications for these kinds of electric vehicles – cost, mileage, maximum speeds, maintenance requirements. (They go for about RMB$190,000 after receiving a government subsidy and paying for licensing, compared to about RMB$600,000 for a new Tesla.)

After having investigated the high-end Tesla and the medium-quality EVs at Ecar, we decided to go back to the elderly college to try to interview users of low-end EVs. We spoke to an elderly man who had just picked up his granddaughter from elementary school in his three-wheel electric bike. He told us briefly about his decision to use his particular EV, where he charges it, and how he thinks his vehicle could be improved.

Why does it matter?

We are continuing to collect information on the different markets for electric vehicles in Beijing, which are definitely more diverse than the EV market in America. By gaining a deeper understanding of the range and depth of these EV markets, we can get a better idea of how EVs will interact with Chinese cities compared to how they have done in American and European cities. Also, in collecting more photographs and user profiles, we hope to provide more on-the-ground material for later use in the fall course.

Where will we go from here?

Tomorrow we plan to talk to a Tsinghua professor who has some research interests in electric vehicles. We will also interview some more users we see around Tsinghua’s neighborhood.