While the Chinese market for new energy vehicles is still developing slowly, low-speed electric cars, which are usually used for short-range driving in small cities and the rural-urban fringe, have enjoyed a rapid growth in China in recent years.
The annual sales of low-speed electric vehicles hit 200,000 in 2013, rising from less than 20,000 in 2009, said Pang Yicheng, chief executive officer of D1EV.com, a platform offering information and trading services for new energy vehicles.
Mainly priced at about 30,000 yuan ($4,960), low-speed electric vehicles have a strong market demand, although most of them are manufactured by private carmakers without a government license to produce new-energy vehicles. Therefore, the Chinese government has not yet recognized such vehicles as new-energy cars.
Some industrial experts said low-speed electric vehicles are not very reliable because their major manufacturers rarely have a complete set of vehicle production technologies. They are also concerned about pollution risks for these cars are mainly powered by lead-acid batteries.
To regulate the market for low-speed electric vehicles, some carmakers are calling for the government to establish technical standards of the industry as soon as possible by referring to European regulations for light and heavy "quadricycles" to encourage accelerated development of the major manufacturers of these cars.
Shandong Tangjun Electric Co Ltd sold 11,700 low-speed electric vehicles in 2013 to different provinces including Shandong, Hebei, Henan, Shanxi, Jiangsu and Zhejiang. The company received orders for more than 2,500 units of such cars in January and invested 1.5 billion yuan in building a factory with an annual production capacity of 200,000 electric vehicles, said Liu Guozeng, general sales manager of the company.
As its cars meet the European standards for light and heavy quadricycles, the company has exported more than 17,000 such vehicles to EU member states such as France, Germany and Italy.
"All we need is an opportunity given by the government to let us turn from a child without identity into a fully fledged citizen," said Liu at the 2013 Global New Energy Vehicle Conference held in Haikou, Hainan province, earlier in January.
He suggested the central government should permit the provincial government of Shandong to conduct pilot programs on low-speed electric vehicles.
China's sales of new energy vehicles increased to 17,642 in 2013 from 12,791 the previous year. The 2013 sales comprised 14,604 electric cars and 3,038 plug-in hybrid vehicles, according to statistics from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.
"It will be much easier to meet the State Council's target if low-speed electric vehicles are included," said Pang.