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BMW: China Biggest Electric Car Market By 2019, i3 On Sale Soon

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courtesy Bentley

courtesy Bentley

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BMW has become the latest in a growing list of automakers to put its faith in the Chinese electric car market.

The Chinese automobile market is huge: 18 million passenger cars alone were sold in 2013. That's ten times that of similarly-populated India, and around 2.4 million more than were sold in the U.S.

But so far, electric vehicle sales have been pitiful. Last year, just 17,600 plug-in cars of any sort--many of which were buses and taxis--hit Chinese roads.

Despite this, the Chinese market's size--and the government's push to finally curb the country's awful pollution problems--mean it's still seen as an area of great potential for electric vehicle sales.

BMW expects that China "will become the largest market for [electromobility] in a few years", Bloomberg reports.

In fact, it could reach that point in just five years "at most", according to BMW's head in China, Karsten Engel.

China is rapidly expanding its charging network, one of the major existing barriers to electric car use. Power companies like State Grid--along with private companies such as Tesla--are already planning widespread expansion of charging points throughout Chinese cities.

MORE: Tesla Will Build Electric Cars In China; Model S On Sale There This Week

Public charging points put up through a BMW and State Grid partnership will feed not just BMW's i3 and i8 plug-in vehicles, but those from major Chinese firms like BYD and SAIC Motor Corp, too.

They won't be compatible with Tesla's vehicles--but Tesla has promised its own Supercharger network and regular charging posts around the country, too.

Supply of cars will also help. "...there are cars coming on the market. We are coming with ours, others are coming as well", said Engel.

One of those is the i3, which BMW expects to sell in China from September.

The i3 and i8 will appear in seven dealerships initially, but lack of supply, rather than lack of demand, will limit sales to around 1,000 units in its first year. BMW is expected to produce around 20,000 i3s by the end of 2014, most of which will go to the U.S. and Europe.

In total, BMW will sell around 400,000 vehicles in China, in 2014. Electric cars are still a tiny proportion, then--but as more automakers put their faith in the Chinese market, that five year target may begin to look quite realistic.

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