China’s Quest to Adopt Electric Vehicles

The Chinese government’s effort to create an electric vehicle industry is a bold experiment in local and system-level innovation. It also provides a window into understanding the promise and peril of economic development policies, both for China and for the rest of the world.

The Chinese auto industry reached a major milestone in 2009. After a decade of continuous growth, China became the largest car market in the world. In 2012, it also became the world’s largest producer of emissions, in part from the rapid spread of personal cars and gasoline-powered trucks and buses. The Chinese government understood that it had an environmental problem.

China’s twelfth Five-Year Plan (2011–2015)—its core economic and social development roadmap—identified seven strategic...

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