SHANGHAI -- The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), China's central planning agency, recently said it will release a blueprint next March on the development of electric vehicles and other types of alternative energy vehicles.
But a blueprint, which consists of merely principles and broad plans, is far from enough to be effective.
As things stand now, unless the government adds detailed action plans and centralized direction to its plan, China may well squander the vast opportunity electric vehicles are now offering; to catch up with western countries in automotive technology.
In response to government calls, by the beginning of this year many Chinese automakers were touting e-vehicles they had developed. At the Shanghai auto show in April, almost every domestic player had a model on display
But the craze to go electric quickly faded.
It turned out many of these companies were merely engaged in a public relations exercise. A few companies, such as BYD Auto Co., were serious. But even they have found it impossible to market their products.
To date, there is still a dearth of incentives for individual electric vehicle buyers and supporting infrastructure such as battery charging stations in China.
A lack of centralized policy making is also holding back tomorrow's cars, together with an administration that makes sure only those who deserve subsidies get them.
At present, at least three government departments -- the NDRC, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, and the Ministry of Science and Technology -- are involved in making policies for electric vehicles.
Industry sources attending meetings convened by these three departments on electric vehicle development complain that each department is drafting its policies without fully consulting the other two.
That has obviously slowed down the policy making process.
When it comes to subsidies, the central government now allows provincial governments to support e-vehicle manufacturers. That also creates a problem: local governments tend to favor local companies.
Compared with other types of cars, electric cars offer Chinese automakers the best chance to catch up with global competitors.
China has become the world's largest auto market. But Chinese automakers are still backward in key conventional technologies such as engines and transmissions. Even in relatively new engine technologies such as hybrid powertrains, Chinese automakers lag far behind global players.
But the technology gap is not so wide in electric cars. No global company has emerged as a clear leader in electric car manufacturing.
Moreover, China has the rich lithium and rare earth metal resources needed to make the advanced batteries and motors that will be the key components of electric cars.
The absence of practical plans and a strong, centralized policy making are hindering the development and adoption of electric vehicles in China.
Unless the government moves quickly to deal with these problems, whatever future it sees for electric vehicles in China could remain as a pipe-dream.