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Senior China official urges shift toward fuel-cell vehicles

[BEIJING] After spending billions of dollars in subsidies for lithium-battery electric cars, China should now shift its focus toward developing vehicles using the competing hydrogen fuel-cell technology, a former top official said.

Benefits of fuel-cell vehicles include long driving range, short refueling time and zero emissions, Wan Gang, a deputy chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body to the parliament, wrote in a commentary published on the state-run People's Daily on Saturday. Battery electric vehicles, which are currently more popular, can't meet the needs of long-distance buses, taxis, or urban logistics and long-haul transport due to their short driving range and long charging time, Wan said.

Wan is the former minister of science and technology and known as the father of China's electric-car industry, having successfully helped to steer the country toward EVs starting about two decades ago. His advocacy now of fuel-cell vehicles represents a potential boon for proponents of such cars -- including Japan's Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. as well as slew of aspiring local makers such as SAIC Motor Corp. and Great Wall Motor Co.

Battery-electric cars and hydrogen fuel-cell autos are grouped under so-called new-energy vehicles in China -- a category of more environmentally friendly vehicles that the country is seeking to promote at the expense of gas guzzlers. Yet more companies have thus far focused on electric vehicles than hydrogen autos, after declining costs of lithium-ion batteries and more charging stations made EVs more affordable.

Toyota is furthest along with commercialization of fuel-cell vehicles, having sold its Mirai model since 2014. The Mirai, priced at about US$60,000 to US$80,000 depending on the market, can run about 500 kilometers (310 miles) on a single tank of hydrogen, which can be refueled in three minutes. By comparison, charging electric battery vehicles can take hours.

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