To Many Chinese, Cars Like Tesla’s Model S Appear To Be Unmanageable – Forbes

Posted: Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Elon Musk’s announcement of a deal with Hanergy to build supercharging stations in China may have temporarily drawn attention away from Tesla’s lack of progress in setting up an adequate network of charging stations. But it appears that he may be overlooking another important issue:  What is the attitude of ordinary Chinese car owners toward pure electric cars?

In order to drive up the popularity of the Model S, Musk and his sales team have thus far been targeting the rich to be Tesla’s first batch of customers. And selling their cars to these early adopters with deep pockets who want to be the first to show off their hi-tech toys looks like a smart move.

But eventually the mass market should be the key objective, and practical concerns appear to weigh heavily on the minds of many Chinese drivers. It seems that a great deal of work still needs to be done before many Chinese families would commit to buying a new technology car.

Putting aside Musk’s aspiration to put new technology into practice, perhaps some sort of marketing research to test the trend could be a useful indicator.

Last Friday, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers issued a press release announcing the launch of a new energy car promotion center in Beijing. The mission of the center is to exhibit the history of pure electric cars and explain the country’s preferential policies, as well as the distribution of recharging stations.

Although the announcement itself was nothing exciting, it hints at something more interesting that comes up if you talk to ordinary drivers. By chance, I chatted with a friend in Guangzhou, surnamed Liu, about the general acceptability of pure electric cars in China now. The first word he threw to me is “trouble.” Regardless of the price of these cars, there are still a lot of pragmatic questions that have yet to be answered, he said.

From recharging to durability to safety, carmakers have not yet provided much information on how to drive a pure electric car (be it a model from BYD BYD or Tesla) like driving Toyota’s Corolla, Ford’s Focus or General Motor’s Buick.

No one knows how long the transformation from petrol-engine cars to pure electric wheelers will eventually take place, but if the transition from pickup trucks to small family cars is any indication – we could be looking at about 20 years for the same dynamics to unfold.

Detroit Electric car charging Detroit Electric car charging (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Liu, whose family just welcomed a baby girl, is a holiday driver. Driving his own car for work would only consume most of his commute time to sit in traffic. He said buying a pure electric car is not even a topic among his circle of friends. For ordinary car-owners, it boils down to practicality.

Liu explained that whenever he or his friends think of the new technology that might expose them to some unresolved issues or hang-ups, they will immediately drop the idea out of hand no matter how appealing the underlying technology may be.

Since Musk or Tesla started to garner so much attention from the Chinese media, many Chinese are like bystanders waiting to see if this American car firm can eventually succeed. But before that happens, innovators like Musk and his team may find that overcoming ordinary consumers’ resistance will be a lot harder than building a few more charging stations.

Follow me on Twitter Twitter @WongKandy and on Forbes.


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