The Chinese government is moving quickly to swap out conventional vehicles for green vehicles at the local level. In February 2009, the government stated that 5% of China’s public service fleet would be powered by alternative fuel in the next three years. China is going as far as providing subsidies approaching 600,000 Yuan (approximately $87,000 USD) per vehicle to communities purchasing clean vehicles made within the country. Changchun-based First Auto Works (FAW) is working toward this goal by supplying buses to its hometown government for an upcoming summit.
FAW looked outside of China to California-based Enova Systems Inc. for its hybrid drive systems. The country’s oldest automaker recently received 70 hybrid drive systems from Enova for installation in its Jiefang buses. Enova plans to deliver an additional 150 units to FAW by the end of 2009 in anticipation of nationwide demand. FAW has also agreed to purchase 800 drive systems from Enova by the end of 2010.
Enova Systems Inc. delivered versions of its Pre-Transmission System to FAW at the beginning of August. This system is unique because the electric motor is located between the gas engine and the transmission. Enova’s electric motor works in unison with the gas engine during acceleration and recharges batteries as the vehicle is braking. The Enova Pre-Transmission System is ideally suited for installation during production rather than aftermarket installation due to the unique arrangement of the motor and transmission.
The FAW Jiefang bus represents the promise and problems with Chinese efforts at eco-friendly vehicles. The Jiefang is capable of holding 103 passengers and reaching speeds of 53 miles per hour, which is not much of a limitation on Changchun’s busy streets. The automaker claims that the hybrid Jiefang will reduce greenhouse emissions by 20% compared to the traditional model. The Jiefang only achieves 7.8 miles per gallon according to FAW reports, demonstrating the poor gas mileage of the automaker’s traditional models.
The larger flaw in China’s plans for a cleaner public service fleet is the lack of homegrown drive train technology. The multi-stage orders of Enova Systems system by FAW is telling of China’s struggles with hybrid technology. China’s Big Five automakers may be great at developing economy-sized cars with miserly MPGs but they still rely on outsiders for hybrid technology. While China may be taking the lead in other areas of the global market, Japan seems light years ahead of China in terms of truly green vehicles.