SHANGHAI -- Since 2010, Beijing has wanted to transform China into the world's largest market for electrified vehicles. But beyond providing generous incentives for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, it was unclear how China's central planners expected to meet their ambitious goal ... until now.
On Nov. 17, the National Development and Reform Commission released a five-year plan to expand the nation's battery-charging network.
Because EV and plug-in hybrid sales depend on those charging stations, the document is a clear road map of how China's central economic planners will cultivate that market.
At the end of 2014, China had 780 charging stations and 31,000 charging poles. By 2020, the government aims to add 12,100 charging stations and 4.8 million charging poles.
That's an enormous objective, but China is a vast country. It isn't enough to build a lot of charging stations. They have to be in the right locations.
Beijing wants more than half of the new charging facilities -- at least 7,400 charging stations and 2.5 million charging poles -- in 12 densely populated coastal provinces and municipalities. Beijing and Shanghai are likely to get the lion's share.
An additional 4,300 charging stations and 2.2 million charging poles would be in 13 provinces and the megacity of Chongqing in China's north, central and southwest regions.
The remaining 400 charging stations and 100,000 charging poles would be installed in the capitals of five remote and sparsely populated provinces and minority regions in southwest and northwest China. This region would include Xinjiang and Tibet.
The planners' first priority is building 8,800 charging stations for China's fleets of electric buses, taxis, mail vans and garbage trucks.
Next, the government will add 2,400 stations for privately owned EVs in cities and 800 fast-charging stations along interprovince highways. Of the 800 highway stations, the first batch will be on roads connecting Beijing to neighboring Hebei province and the city of Tianjin in north China, an area long plagued by severe air pollution.
In 2010, the Chinese government began promoting EV and plug-in hybrid sales, aiming to help Chinese automakers counter the technological prowess of foreign rivals. But without an extensive battery-charging network, EV and plug-in hybrid sales have missed government targets.
After taking office in 2013, Premier Li Keqiang's government has pushed hard to commercialize electrified vehicles.
Encouraged by the government's policies, state-owned SAIC Motor Corp. and Guangzhou Automobile Group Co. invested heavily in development of the vehicles. Private automakers such as Great Wall Motor Co. and Geely Automobile Holdings followed suit.
And sales of the vehicles are finally starting to rise. Through 10 months this year, deliveries of pure EVs and plug-in hybrids in China totaled 171,145 vehicles, nearly three times the tally from the same period last year.
With construction of battery charging stations picking up, China's EV makers seem likely to maintain their explosive sales growth. But that growth won't be evenly spread across China.
Over the next few years, the big coastal cities will be China's equivalent of California, nurturing the young EV industry as the rest of the nation looks on.