China Revives Market for Plug-in Electric Vehicles

In an effort to help commuters traveling short distances while reducing smog in urban areas, China is ushering in a new generation of plug-in electric vehicles powered by cutting edge batteries. Long ago abandoned by U.S. automakers due to short ranges and difficult cold starts, plug-in electric vehicles are all the rage in China today, especially for those formerly reliant on bicycles to get around or unable to afford gasoline for internal combustion cars.

At the most recent Challenge Bibendium, a green car exhibition sponsored by Michelin and named after the company’s mascot, Chinese automakers showcased electric scooters and bikes already in widespread use. According to government officials, as many as one million Chinese have forsaken their traditional cars for electric bikes and scooters. China also hopes to replace thousands of exhaust-spewing diesel-powered buses with cleaner electric models for use during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing as a showcase for the development of cleaner mass transit.

Environmentalists around the world are cheering the surge in electric vehicle use in China, as old-fashioned internal combustion engines have led to persistent smog problems in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. But while a transition to electric bikes and scooters in cities should help urban Chinese breathe easier, it will not necessarily help in the battle against global warming, as much of the electricity will actually be generated using fossil fuels.