Beijing smogEnlarge Photo
Green benefits and the increasing proliferation of more economical conventional cars is also having an effect. Coupled with China's relative paucity of electric car charging stations, it makes for a customer base unsure of whether an electric car really offers all the benefits its makers say.
That's particularly true of green benefits, in a country where its electricity generation is part of the pollution problem. Recent figures showed China is second only to India in the pollution and emissions produced by electricity generation. An electric car may be cleaner locally than a conventional vehicle, but if that out-sourced energy generation pushes a cloud of smog over your city every few days, it's not as easy to appreciate the benefits.
A study from Carnegie Mellon University cited by JD Power's Dunne also suggests the emissions cost of a Tesla Model S battery is greater than for the production of a whole regular vehicle--though we'd also point out that production is still a smaller proportion of a car's total impact than usage.
You'll probably be familiar with stressing that point to your electric car skeptic friends--which illustrates how difficult it is to break some of the myths around electric cars. Now try breaking those myths for a country of over one billion people...
Growth for green
The final obstacle is, to a degree, more specifc to China.
The country's economy is growing at a large rate, albeit a rate which is slowing down. The challenge is to convince China and the Chinese to trade some of that growth more more environmentally friendly practices.
"The Chinese government and its leadership are well aware of the challenges with air pollution-- [but] they are now having goods and services that were not available 10 to 20 years ago. People are reluctant to give those up" explains Dunne.
Unusually, China Daily reports that Tesla announced the opening of its first Chinese dealership at the Detroit Auto Show in January. For a company just getting into its stride with selling cars in its home market, it seems odd Tesla is taking the risk to expand into a market unsure of electric cars.
Perhaps Tesla knows something the rest of us don't--but we suspect China's growing demand for luxury products may have something to do with it.
A Nissan Leaf is simply a mode of transportation powered by electricity. But Tesla's approach to tackling other luxury vehicles head-on--and offering a more useful driving range in the process--could be more attractive to the sort of customers able to afford a new Model S.
One thing is for sure--whether Tesla is successful in China or not, the country itself has its work cut out to meet a self-imposed target of half a million annual electric car sales by the end of 2015--or its target of five million a decade after that.