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No electric cars but something else instead!

No electric cars but something else instead!

So much is now written about electric car development andparticularly the push in China for this mode of transport that Inow have expectations of seeing something on the street, but thereality is different.
Such is the story in Shanghai, where I am attending the AnnualCouncil Meeting of the World Business Council for SustainableDevelopment (WBCSD). This is a remarkable city, with a Maglev trainthat travels at 431 km/hour to and from the airport (sadly only at300 km/hour in off-peak times when I happened to use it), vast (andsomewhat empty) highways, a first rate underground transit systemand an almost brand new financial centre, built around the thirdtallest building in the world. But no electric cars (that Isaw).
Nevertheless, electricity is making inroads into the personaltransport system. Electric motorbikes are everywhere and appear tobe in the majority when compared to conventional gasoline motorbikes. A simpler and presumably cheaper version of this is theelectric assisted pedal bike. These are all eerily silent vehicles,gliding along the road at modest speed. The only warning thepedestrian gets is the horn or, somewhat too late, the sound ofrubber on bitumen rolling along.
An extensive report on the scale of the industry and the technologybehind these vehicles has been produced by Argonne NationalLaboratory in the United States. Key findings of the 2009 reportare as follows:
In 2006, 20 million E-bikes were made in China. At present, Chinahas 50 million battery-operated bicycles on the road, of which avery small percentage operate on Li-ion batteries. The rest of themuse lead acid batteries. In China, about 2,500 companies produceelectric two- or three-wheeled vehicles. All of the large companiesproducing electric vehicles (EVs) have E-bike models that arepowered by Li-ion batteries, but the performance-to-price ratio forthose E-bikes is still not compatible with that for E-bikes poweredby lead acid batteries.
There are 10,000 enterprises, both large and small, involved in theChinese national production of electric bikes. Small and mid-sizedcompanies accounted for 35% of total national bike production in2007. Most of the E-bikes use lead acid batteries, yet in 2007, theentire industrial production of Li-ion batteries for electricbicycles had surpassed 100,000 ETWs. In 2007, China exported about395,000 electric bicycles; exports to Japan, the United States, andthe European Union (EU) numbered 203,300, which was 58% ofproduction.
What is visibly missing is the conventional bicycle (but there aresome), once the primary mode of transport in China. I assume thatas Chinese city centres have deurbanized to make way for office andindustrial developments and urbanization has moved further out, thedistances involved for daily transit of the population havedefeated cyclists.
Meanwhile, all that is seemingly missing in Shanghai is appearingin London, of all places. With inner-London boroughs reurbanizing,bicycles are back in force, recently further supported by the citybikes provided by London Transport. Electric cars are just startingto appear and recharging infrastructure can be found in a few innercity streets and in some shopping mall carparks. I recently evenrode on a trial electric bus service from Paddington Station toBank, provided as an extension of the Heathrow Express railservice.

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