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China’s Electric Vehicle Charging Landscape

From bp to Didi, Tencent to Tesla, some of the world's biggest companies know that to take advantage of China's EV boom, the time to innovate is now

by Mark Xu
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China’s EV charging landscape is dynamic and rapidly evolving, accommodating a diverse range of EV models and charging solutions thanks to collaborations between companies like bp and DiDi, writes Tom Pattinson

The global shift towards sustainable and eco-friendly transportation solutions has given rise to the rapid adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) across the world. China has been leading this transformation and has been strengthening its EV market for over a decade. The size of the EV market – which grew 29% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2023 to over 8 million vehicles – has led to the development of a comprehensive charging network.

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Although battery-powered EVs (BEVs) make up 70% the market, plug in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) are also seeing huge growth, with a surge of 88% year-on-year. This growth comes despite the fact that the Chinese government has discontinued the 13-year-old new energy vehicle (NEV) purchase subsidy, and is in no small part due to the country’s vast and successful EV charging infrastructure. This infrastructure means that it is not just cheaper and more environmentally friendly to drive an EV in China today, but also a lot more practical than it was in the past.

In 2014, China started to roll out EV charging infrastructure in urban areas, along highways and in key regions where EV adoption was encouraged. By 2018, there were approximately 330,000 public charging points servicing 2 million electric vehicles. Today, there are over 1.2 million charging stations, demonstrating the country’s rapid progress in building a comprehensive charging network and commitment to sustainable mobility. The dominant provider of charging stations across China was the State Grid Corporation of China, but an increasing number of private car manufacturers and energy suppliers are joining the EV charging race.

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Chinese original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have emerged as significant players in the EV market. While compatibility among different EV models is generally high, it is important to note that not all EVs made by Chinese OEMs work with the same charging stations. The charging infrastructure in China includes various types of connectors and charging speeds, leading to a requirement for adaptable charging solutions.

The compatibility of internationally made EVs with Chinese charging stations also depends on the type of charging connector used. However, as the industry has evolved, many internationally manufactured EVs now offer adaptability to the Chinese charging infrastructure. This adaptability has allowed foreign EV manufacturers to ease into China’s vast EV market with less friction.

“As with other areas of BEV technology, China continues to generate ideas to make ownership and utilisation more practical. One of the more creative ideas is the battery swap concept, which is now being widely introduced,” says Mark Xu, Sector Lead, Advanced Manufacturing and Transport at CBBC.

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Battery swapping offers a quicker alternative to conventional charging, addressing the time-consuming aspect of recharging. Users can replace depleted batteries with fully charged ones, significantly reducing waiting times. This approach is particularly beneficial for EVs used by ride-hailing platforms such as DiDi and delivery services including Meituan and ele.me, where downtime affects profitability.

This concept has been embraced by Chinese EV companies like Nio. Nio has set up an extensive network of over 1,300 battery swap stations, allowing its customers to exchange batteries quickly, akin to refuelling a conventional vehicle.

International energy company bp has also recognised the potential of China’s booming electric vehicle market. Bp, known for its expertise in fuel retailing, has made strategic moves to establish a foothold in China’s EV sector. One of its initiatives involves collaborating with DiDi to develop a charging network through its joint venture, bp Xiaoju. This partnership already provides rapid charge points across a network of around 400 charging hubs, covering 30 cities.

“We’re really excited by our joint venture with DiDi in China. Their drivers are completing around 25 million journeys a day, covering approximately 300 million kilometres and all these journeys need to be electrified. We’re doing that and we’re serving other fleet customers across the country,” Richard Bartlett, head of bp pulse says. “China holds massive market potential and bp pulse has substantial potential for expansion there. And we’re expanding fast. bp pulse entered the China market in 2020 and today has around 10,000 DC rapid or faster charge points. We see massive opportunity for more growth and fast, launching us towards our ambition to be China’s leading EV charging brand, providing ultra-fast and rapid charging services to customers when and where they need it.”

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As well as the State Grid Corporation of China and NIO, Chinese tech giants Tencent and Alibaba have also invested in EV charging infrastructure through their respective platforms. They aim to integrate charging services into their ecosystems, offering users the convenience of locating, reserving and paying for charging services through their apps.

In terms of international brands, Tesla has taken a unique approach to charging in China. In addition to its widely adopted standard charging connectors, Tesla has also established its own network of Supercharger stations across the country. These Superchargers are designed exclusively for Tesla vehicles and offer faster charging speeds compared to standard charging stations. This approach aligns with Tesla’s commitment to providing seamless charging experiences for its customers.

China’s EV charging landscape is dynamic and rapidly evolving, accommodating a diverse range of EV models and charging solutions. The compatibility of both Chinese and international EVs with charging stations has contributed to the expansion of the EV market. As China continues to witness remarkable growth in EV adoption, collaborations between companies like bp and DiDi underscore the global interest in shaping the future of sustainable transportation. With Tesla’s unique charging approach complementing the infrastructure, China’s electric vehicle sector is poised for continued progress and innovation.

14 September: CBBC Auto Roundtable event in collaboration with the Institute of the Motor Industry

The next CBBC Automotive Roundtable of 2023 will be hosted by the Institute of the Motor Industry at its conference centre on 14 September.

This roundtable will focus on how the industry is tackling new automotive technology and the skills gap, with speakers including Steve Scofield FIMI, Head of Business Development, Institute of the Motor Industry; Owen Edwards, Head of Downstream Automotive Consulting, Grant Thornton; Andy Turbefield, Head of Quality at Halfords Autocentres; and David Gregory, China Market Business Advisor, CBBC.

After the presentations from the Institute of the Motor Industry, Grant Thornton and Halfords, there will be a Q&A session, where you’ll get the chance to put your questions directly to the industry experts. The event will conclude with a networking buffet lunch.

Click here to register.

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