IF YOU’RE CHARGED up for a world of electric cars, consider booking a trip to China. This week, the world’s automakers gathered at the Shanghai Auto Show to reveal their latest wares, pulling the cover of one electric after another.
Audi revealed the E-Tron Sportback concept, a potential Tesla Model X competitor. Volkswagen unveiled the Crozz, part of its post-Dieselgate, all-electric apology tour. Chevrolet, Buick, Renault, Citroen, and Jaguar showed off battery-powered cars. So did the local Chinese players, like Denza, Chery, Lynk & Co, and Nio.
Compare that scene to the ‘bigger is better vibe of this month’s New York International Auto Show, where Dodge showed off the atmosphere-punishing Demon and Volkswagen unveiled its enormous Atlas SUV, which will launch in the US with just one powertrain option: a V6 engine.
Announcing a new car in one place or another is a mostly symbolic choice, but the Shanghai show’s emphasis on zero-emissions indicates an industry-wide shift in focus. Over the past decade, the US—home to Tesla, Chevy (maker of the Volt and Bolt), and a major market for Nissan’s Leaf—has played the electric frontrunner. That’s mostly thanks to regulations that demand automakers produce zero-emission vehicles alongside their profit-generating, gas-guzzling SUVs and pickups.
Now that the Trump Administration is working to shred those environmentally-focused rules, the auto industry seems to be swinging its attention east. “We are convinced China will become the leading market for electromobility,” Volkswagen brand chief Herbert Diess told Reuters at the Shanghai show.
The Government Play
The ups and downs of the nascent electric car industry are largely dictated by government decree. Look to Norway, where nearly 40 percent of cars sold are electric, thanks to favorable tax treatment. Or at Georgia, which saw sales plunge 90 percent when the state scrapped a $5,000 credit for EV buyers in June 2015.
In China, credits and rebates are driving impressive EV sales, and the government has considered dictating that electric and hybrid cars must make up 12 percent of each manufacturer’s sales by 2020. While US policies push for EVs to battle climate change and reduce American dependence on foreign fossil fuels, the Chinese see the technology not just as a way to reduce urban smog, but as a route to prominence.