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Electric cars struggle amid safety, cost fears

China Daily/Asia News Network--Shenzhen, a city in China with a reputation for setting trends, has been attempting to lead the push for motorists to switch to electric vehicles.

The metropolis in Guangdong province already has a fleet of 1,300 electric buses and 700 taxis on its roads, and authorities in this city in South China had hoped to see that increase in the near future.

Yet, a fatal car crash last month may have put a serious dent in that ambition.

On May 26, a Nissan GTR rear-ended two taxis while traveling at an estimated speed of 180 km/h. The driver was detained and is suspected of drunk driving.

The collision caused one of the taxis — an e6 electric vehicle manufactured by BYD — to veer into trees and catch fire, resulting in the deaths of its driver and two passengers.

Although BYD, a Chinese automaker, released a statement three days after the crash to insist its vehicles had passed crash testing and met national safety standards, it was not enough to stem the growing public concern over electric cars.

“In the past, I couldn't take an electric taxi because there were only 700 available and too many people wanted to try it,” said Huang Weihua, an art dealer in his 30s from Shenzhen, Guangdong province. “Now I don't dare to take one.”

Despite several favorable policies, electric vehicles have so far failed to gain much popularity in China.

In April, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced plans to help sales reach 500,000 vehicles by 2015 and 5 million by 2020.

The target would be a major increase from the 8,159 electric vehicles sold last year (almost all went to government fleets).

According to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, automakers sold 1,499 hybrid cars and 1,830 all-electric cars in the first quarter of 2012.

“Electric vehicles are mostly used by the public sector, such as public transport and city sanitation, although the government plans to increase the number used as taxis and by logistics companies,” Li Weili, an economist at the State Information Centre, said at a recent news conference in Beijing during a forum on the strategic development of emerging industries.

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