The Gravitational Pull of China

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The back end of yet another green tech vehicle headed for manufacture in China. (Credit: ZapWorld)

A recent report from iSuppli, an El Segundo technology research firm, predicts China will dominate nearly 72 percent of new photovoltaic manufacturing capacity this year.

Chinese companies hold seven of the positions on iSuppli’sT op 10 list, representing 6,445 megawatts of manufacturing capacity.

Meanwhile, Santa Rosa's Zap electric vehicles will most likely go into high-volume production in China. The North Bay Business Journal reports the zero emission vehicle pioneer is in the process of locking down a 51 percent stake in Jonway Automobiles in Zheijang Province.

Priscilla Lu of Cathaya Capital, one of Zap’s largest investors and member of its board of directors, breaks it down: “The government subsidizes electric vehicles at about $9,000, and large cities like Beijing and Shanghai add another $9,000. That’s over three quarters of the cost, and the subsidies go to the manufacturer, not the car buyer."

Jonway's 3.6 million-square-foot plant in Sanmen will be expanded and enhanced to manufacture Zap vehicles.

“The plant is the size of the Nummi plant in full production,” said Zap CEO Steven Schneider. “Owning 51 percent of an operation like that means that our future plans can be implemented very quickly, using only a fraction of the plant’s capacity.”

It's hard to argue with that.  It seems California's manufacturing future is largely limited to niche products and prototypes. Except for those cases where domestic government subsidies put a tent peg in the ground here.

Speaking of which, Pete Carey of the Silicon Valley Mercury News took a test drive in a Triac, a $25,000 three-wheeler with a 100-mile range, manufactured by Green Vehicles of Salinas. Leyden Energy of Fremont made the lithium-ion battery.

The prototypes were built in China, but the the two companies have together locked down $5 million worth of grants from the California Energy Commission - in exchange for manufacturing in California.

The vehicles are expected to begin rolling off the assembly line at the end of next year, at a rate of 2,000 a year. Now, how many jobs is that?

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About Rachael Myrow

Rachael Myrow hosts the California Report for KQED. Over 17 years in public radio, she's worked for Marketplace and KPCC, filed for NPR and The World, and developed a sizable tea collection that's become the envy of the KQED newsroom. She specializes in politics, economics and history in California - but for emotional balance, she also covers food and its relationship to health and happiness.

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