China grants legal status to low-speed lead-powered cars



China introduced regulations in October to the low-speed vehicle market in what could be a huge boost to the lead battery industry, with demand potentially growing from 23,000 units in 2009 to two million by 2020, according to the China Low-Speed Electric Vehicle Industry Report.

Low-speed electric vehicles are defined as having a top speed of less than 100 kilometres an hour (62mph), and are popular predominantly in the Chinese countryside, selling in numbers far surpassing those of standard electric vehicles made by the likes of BYD and Tesla.

The report said it had “taken less than 10 years for the LSEV industry to grow from an infant to a behemoth”.

Because they have not been regulated they have become a danger to road safety and the environment, according to a Ministry of Industry and information Technology statement on October 16.

“Low-speed electric vehicles meet some specific travel needs; however, their production is unauthorized, poor quality, mostly unlicensed and its disordered development will pose serious challenges to road traffic safety,” it said.

Any manufacturers not meeting the new rules will be shut down, said the statement.

In Shandong Province alone, more than 330,000 low-speed EVs were sold in the first eight months of 2016, the ministry said.

The statement also says that the extensive use of lead-acid batteries is an environmental pollution risk, but with the new regulations these will have to be inspected and monitored, said Dai Guiping, director of R&D with Chaowei Power Holdings, a major lead-acid battery producer in China.

“Yes, the Chinese government is supporting the development of low-speed lead-powered three-wheeled or four-wheeled EVs,” said Dai.

“Especially in Shandong Province, there is a huge market for this kind of EV in the countryside. Also, lead battery technology is improving. Lead is in a position where it shares 65% of the battery market of the whole world.”

“The move will force existing electric vehicle makers to speed up product development and compete for consumers,” said Cui Dongshu, secretary general of the China Passenger Car Association. “It is great news for low-speed electric car makers as they can finally make cars legally.”

Lead battery recycler Aqua Metals CEO Stephen Clarke said it was encouraging for the lead battery industry.

“China is beginning to refocus on low cost lead powered electric vehicles as their primary way of electrifying the morning community and the evening community, so the mass transportation of people into and out of work and school is the major transport challenge of the modern world,” he said in a conference on November 7.

“China looks to be swinging back towards lead as a potential energy storage choice for that market which is pretty encouraging.”

One lead battery industry insider that BESB spoke to disagreed, saying the new regulations might result in a ‘blip’ in increased demand for lead batteries, but that long term, the Chinese government’s focus was on lithium-ion battery technology.