BEIJING -- On seeing the many new energy vehicles on show at this year's Beijing auto show it would be easy to succumb to a false impression that China's car industry, now the world's largest, will soon go electric.
While just about every international automaker used the event to introduce China to another e-vehicle, their efforts were outdone by domestic competitors.
BYD Auto Co., a domestic leader in alternative energy vehicle development, showed two full-electric models. So did each of Zhejiang Geely Holding Co., Chery Automobile Co. and Lifan Automobile Co.
Likewise, the new products put on show by state-owned companies such as China FAW Group, Chongqing Changan Automobile Co. and Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Co. were mostly electric cars.
So is China about to lead the world into a new era of green motoring?
Hardly. Engage executives of these automakers in conversation, and it quickly becomes apparent that none of them is sure how soon they can actually start selling their electric vehicles in the market.
Nissan Motor Co. has already started taking orders for its Leaf electric car in the United States and Japan. But at a media roundtable at the show, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said he is still waiting to see what incentives the government will offer for electric vehicles in China.
Changan is one of several state-owned automakers taking part in a major government initiative to commercialize new energy vehicles in China. But at an industry forum held last week in Beijing, company president Xu Liuping acknowledged that mass production of new energy vehicles including electric vehicles still faces "many problems".
Xu didn't specify what the problems are. But at the same forum Geely's technology chief pointed out that among other things, a lack of clear government incentive policies is hindering the development of electric vehicles in China.
Returning to my hotel from the show site last week, I saw a TV program about the absence of unified technical standards for the construction of battery charging stations for electric vehicles.
According to the program, different cities are building stations according to different standards. Even worse, in the north China city of Shijiazhuang, a state-owned grid operator and a private company have each built a charging station according to their own standards.
Unless technical standards are set for battery charging, this waste and chaos will surely continue. And unless the government enacts clear incentives, most of the electric vehicles now on display in Beijing will remain nothing but show products.