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BMW projects China will become No. 1 EV market by 2019

BMW will start sales of its i8 plug-in hybrid supercar in Europe next month.

SHANGHAI (Bloomberg) -- BMW Group predicts China will become the world's biggest market for electric vehicles as more charging stations are built there and the national government promotes cleaner light vehicles to reduce chronic pollution.

China will reach that target in at most five years, Karsten Engel, head of BMW's China operations, said at an event in Shanghai marking the automaker's collaboration with the city's municipal power company.

As part of the partnership, the State Grid will build public charging points at the former World Expo site, one of 46 such areas the city is targeting by the end of the year where EV owners can power their cars, according to Fan Ye, general manager of electric vehicles at State Grid Shanghai.

"We expect that the Chinese car market for electromobility will become the largest markets for those cars in a few years," Engel told reporters after a ceremony in Shanghai Wednesday. "Because you have supply now, there are cars coming on the market. We are coming with ours, others are coming as well."

BMW’s second vehicle from its i subbrand, the i8 plug-in hybrid, will go on sales in Europe next month, joining the i3 battery-powered compact that went on sale last November.

The automaker joins Volkswagen Group among automakers betting on vehicles with alternative powertrains to spark future growth in the world's largest auto market.

VW plans to unveil more than 15 electrified models in China by 2018. Daimler is building electric vehicles with Chinese automaker BYD Co., while Tesla Motors delivered its first Model S cars in the country last month.

The public charging points at the former Expo site in Shanghai will be compatible with EVs made by BMW and other brands, including BYD and SAIC Motor Corp., though not for Tesla's cars, according to Fan. Tesla has said it plans to install a large supercharger network in China.

China sales

BMW expects to start selling the i3 in China in September at seven dealerships, Engel said. BMW will probably sell fewer than 1,000 i3s this year in China because of a lack of supply, he said.

The company will be "happy" to sell more than 400,000 cars in total in China this year, he said. The market will slow for the rest of the year after expanding faster than anticipated in the first four months, he said.

Five years after China began promoting EVs, fewer than 70,000 are on its roads, lagging behind the central government's target of reaching 500,000 by 2015.

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