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REPORTER (VOICEOVER): China is saving is savoring the fruits of its economic boom, but it’s also counting the costs. Its cars and industry are now the world’s biggest emitters of carbon dioxide. But according to the Chinese, this is the brand-spanking-new answer to their car pollution problem. It’s a plug-in electric car made by a company called BYD, which stands for Build Your Dream.
PAUL LIN, LIN: China auto market is raising.
REPORTER: Paul Lin is BYD’s marketing manager, and this is their gleaming showroom in the southern city of Shenzhen. BYD started life as a maker of mobile phone batteries just 13 years ago and has only been producing cars for 5.
LIN: And we find out battery not only can be used for the mobile phone or some kind of the electronics consumer devices; [it] can be also used for cars, used for solar panel, used for everything. So, based on that, we acquire a state-owned company in 2003, a car company, to enter auto business.
REPORTER: The car they’ve come up with is the F3. It runs up to 100 km on battery power alone—enough for the average commute, says the manufacturer. And when the battery runs low, the petrol engine switches in.
LIN: Which means it can run for more than 100 kilometers by pure electric mode. And after that, you want to go a longer distance, the gasoline engine will start and support.
REPORTER: And according to the companies promotional video, there are a number of options for refueling.
VOICEOVER, BYD PROMOTIONAL VIDEO: You can choose refueling in gas station, quick recharging in charging station, standard household power outlet, or solar-panel recharging. Create your convenient life.
REPORTER: While the solar panel is something they’re still working on, the makers insist this is more than just another eco-friendly hybrid. They claim no other car has yet been able to travel so far on just battery power.
LIN: If you only go for less than 100 km per day, you can go back home and charge your car in your garage. And in another day, you just go for work by pure electric motor again.
REPORTER: Outside the showroom, I get the chance to try one for myself. Inside, everything about the car looks normal—the steering wheel, dashboard. The only difference is how it’s powered.
REPORTER (ON CAMERA): So the car is now powered by battery.
BYD REPRESENTATIVE: Yes.
REPORTER: Okay. Well, it’s not going to win any awards for style, this car, but it certainly has a real kick, quite a powerful acceleration. It’s very smooth, in fact, smoother than I thought.
REPORTER (VOICEOVER): BYD believes its factories give it a winning edge.
BYD REPRESENTATIVE: All our batteries are recycled. The power is recycled. So it’s environmentally beneficial. So people will like it, not only in China; I think most Western country people will like it very much.
REPORTER (ON CAMERA): Chairman Mao said the East is red. But maybe the East is green.
BYD REPRESENTATIVE: Well, right.
REPORTER (VOICEOVER): The batteries can be fully charged in nine hours from a regular electrical outlet, or much faster at BYD’s own charging stations, of which there are only seven so far, but the plan is eventually for thousands. Green technology has long been in the slow lane in China, but it now seems to recognize the need to reduce its fast-growing dependence on crude oil and to limit its choking emissions.
VOICEOVER, BYD PROMOTIONAL VIDEO: In contemporary society, severe energy deficiency, carbon dioxide emission of automobile, and air pollution are the three main current environmental issue in the world.
CHRISTIAN BASSET, ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST, “CLEAN AIR”: I’m totally convinced that, especially concerning the roadside pollution in every large Chinese city, China wants to solve it. And using an electric car is a way to drastically reduce roadside air pollution.
REPORTER: Hong Kong environmental activist Christian Basset says electric cars would be a small, but important, milestone.
REPORTER: Even if 10 percent of China’s motorists started driving electric cars in the next 10 years, what impact would that have?
BASSET: The impact may not be tremendous on the scale of the country. However, as a green organization, we see it as a sign. We see it as an evolution of the mentalities. And if more people think about green car, if more people think about green technology, so much the better.
REPORTER: Ordinary Chinese certainly seem impressed by the idea of a greener car. The visitors today? Local customs officers, beaming national pride.
CUSTOM OFFICER (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): I was talking to the engineers about the car. They are very proud of their achievement. I feel really inspired by them. I’m very proud of them.
OFF CAMERA: Absolutely proud of it.
REPORTER: After recent scandals, the central government is actively trying to rebuild confidence in the “Made in China” brand. It’s already placing its own orders for the home-grown hybrid—a sort of green nationalism.
PAUL LIN: And China Government is concentrate day by day and time by time on let the public know the new energy car will be the future.
REPORTER: The F3 will cost around $32,000. And while there are no plans yet to sell it in Australia, BYD hope to have it in US showrooms within two years and in Europe shortly after. China is positioning itself as a growing power in clean-energy technologies that’ll one day fuel the world economy, which is probably why Warren Buffet, the shrewd US investor, has just paid US$230 million for a 9 percent stake in the company. But this isn’t the first attempt to mass produce an electric car.
OFF CAMERA: [inaudible] your own fueling station, isn’t it? Really?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It’s my own fueling station. Very convenient.
REPORTER: Three years ago, Dateline reported from America on the rise and fall of General Motors’ electric car. While many believe it was the victim of big oil interests, GM’s head of PR, Dave Barthmuss, told Dateline that consumers just weren’t interested.
DAVID BARTHMUSS, GENERAL MOTORS: People did not demand the EV1 from GM in large enough numbers for us to pursue it. I have not seen a auto company come out with a battery program that has a vehicle that will have the kind of range and quick charge that’s needed to appeal to a mass market at a price point where the common man and woman can afford it on a monthly basis.
OFF CAMERA: Ladies and gentlemen, that is the sound of a crushed automobile being shredded into a million pieces.
REPORTER: But now the electric car is having its revenge. Having scuppered it once before, General Motors is planning to unveil a new plug-in vehicle next year. But BYD has beaten them to the punch: the F3 goes on sale in China later this year. It’s another blow to the US car industry from a company with its sights set on world domination.
LIN: Our ambitions in China is, in 2015, to become the China number one. And we hope in 2025 we can become the world number one. Of course, it’s by our new energy car.
REPORTER: The looming recession offers opportunity to an auto newcomer that has come a long way very quickly.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.