Improving fuel efficiency is a key element in China’s long-term strategic plan for the automobile industry, and the focus of previous and current passenger car fuel consumption regulations there. Earlier this year, China announced a preliminary 2020 fleet fuel consumption target of 5 liters per hundred kilometers. Yet detailed analysis of what technologies will lead to that target at what cost remains lacking. Knowing the vehicle characteristics and technology adoption status of current vehicles from all major market segments is the starting point for developing feasible and cost-effective technological roadmap to reach that target.
The report provides that baseline. A comprehensive database containing detailed technological information on each new vehicle model sold in the 2010 market provides the foundation for an analysis carried out at different relevant levels: the Chinese passenger car fleet as a whole, domestics vs imports, major segments, and individual manufacturers.
- Major vehicle specifications such as engine displacement, curb weight, footprint, and power fall in between the levels of the US and EU car fleets (excluding diesel cars). Given the average size of the vehicles (9% heavier and 1% bigger than the EU car fleet, and 21% lighter and 10% smaller than the US fleet), the Chinese fleet is less fuel efficient, consuming on average 26% more fuel than the EU fleet and only 4% less than the U.S. fleet.
- China lags behind the EU and U.S. in terms of most major efficiency technologies, including variable valve timing, direct gasoline injection, turbocharging and supercharging, though it is catching up on the application of certain technologies such as dual clutch transmission (with a similar adoption rate as that of the U.S.).
- Import cars, as a small fraction of the total market, were mainly large, high-performance, luxury, and gas-guzzling vehicles. Nearly half of the import fleet was fuel-guzzling SUVs. Overall, more advanced engine and transmission technologies were found in the import fleet, but they were used to boost performance rather than fuel economy.
- The Chinese mini-to-large-car segments are quite similar to their counterparts in the EU in terms of key vehicle specifications. Despite the similarities in vehicle specifications, average CO2 emissions rates (and fuel consumption rates) of typical cars for each segment in China are all higher, to various extents, than the corresponding cars in Europe. In particular, the CO2 emissions rate of an average Chinese car is 11% higher than that of a typical car in Europe (173 g/km vs. 156 g/km), mainly due to the technology lag in the Chinese fleet.
- Technology application levels vary from segment to segment. In general, smaller-car segments, dominated by Chinese independent brands, lag behind on almost all efficiency technologies compared to larger-car segments, which are dominated by automaker joint ventures.
- Minivans in China are a unique in that they are built on minicar platforms, but are taller and with greater inside volume than minicars for carrying either goods or passengers in suburban and rural areas. Typical Chinese minivans are smaller, lighter, and less powerful than minivans in the U.S. market or so-called car-derived vans in the EU market. Despite their small size, the fuel efficiency of these vehicles is poor, comparable to a typical mid-sized car. To keep their sticker prices low, very few manufacturers equip minivans with advanced engine and transmission technologies.
- There is a clear gap in efficiency technology application between Chinese independent automakers and joint-venture automakers. Many engine technologies commonly used by joint ventures, such as variable valve timing, are still in the early development stage among Chinese independent automakers.