By the numbers, China looks like it’s on the way to dominating the global electric car industry. But subsidies and inferior technology threaten to leave it behind the rest of the world despite the big numbers. Chinese electric passenger car sales rose by 50% in 2016 to more than 300,000 cars, according to China’s state-backed auto manufacturers association, overtaking the U.S. China is targeting more than 4 million electric cars on the road over the next four years. Outside China, about 260,000 electric cars were sold world-wide last year. With electric cars, China is running into a familiar problem. It can put up big numbers but quality is uneven and subsidies spur much of the production. Last year alone, China spent nearly $15 billion on electric cars and charging stations. The production numbers paint a misleading picture of the industry. China has mostly stuck with inferior, indigenous technology, leaving the market dominated by low-cost, low-range electric car models and inconsistent charging-station standards. Anecdotally, consumers complain of flimsy and tiny cars that wouldn’t pass crash tests and batteries quickly going bad. It isn’t surprising that the main buyers of electric vehicles have been taxi fleets and government entities.
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