BYD's Electric Car: China Goes AC/DC

December 15, 2008
And the winner in the category of First Manufacturer to Offer Mass-Market Electric Cars is...BYD? You mean BYD from China? The same China that's often castigated on the world stage for generating power from outdated coal technology? The same China that's criticized for its record on human rights and the environment? That China's going electric? Wow.

If all goes as planned, BYD will trump GM, Toyota, and Nissan in their quests to offer electric cars to the general public by at least a year, and the Chinese government is set to offer sizable subsidies to make sure the cars gain traction with consumers.

That's fine and all--though I can't help wondering about the planning, timetable, and other variables of the project. After all, China also made green news recently by launching the world's largest hydroelectric plant--but only after uprooting over a million people who lived along the Yangtze River. Balancing technological innovation with the safety and welfare of citizens is a tightrope walk, and China's balance hasn't yet been dead-center.

Still, bravo to BYD (even though their achievement likely means more competition for U.S. automakers in China). Given the rapid growth in car ownership in China, putting electric cars in the hands of the populace seems a responsible and savvy thing to do--and the infrastructure enhancements required to make the cars viable won't hurt the country's economy either. Maybe there's a lesson in there for those of us whose economies aren't quite so rosy?--Richard Read

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