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China surprised me of course. Aside from being just in Guangzhou we also travelled by road to Forshan: a major, major area for producing furniture. The scale is bewildering. Mile after mile of malls selling just furniture and factories making it.
But living in China is not cheap (at least not in the cities). Prices would shock you: the Starbucks in our hotel (which was the regular street price) took RNB39 for a grande latte which is over $6 US or ₪24. That’s not cheap. Some food on the streets was cheap but not dramatically and there are not two prices, one for locals, one for others. Gas prices looked to be about 40% less than Israel but still more than the US prices.
Now purely by accident (because someone else booked my hotel for me) it turned out I was 10 minutes from Better Place’s China visitor centre. This is a major joint venture with China Southern Grid. As yet they haven’t deployed any infrastructure or sold anything but one has to understand that China isn’t rushing. It has set itself some highly ambitious targets for kicking the imported oil habit.
And scale: you have to comprehend scale. China Southern Grid covers and serves an area containing 300 million people and incorporating some of the richest and most advanced parts of China. For example you don’t see old cars on the roads in Guangzhou: the oldest cars on the streets are the taxis which are locally made VW’s and Hyundai and they look around 15 to 20 years old. There is huge wealth driving around those roads. One factory owner was kind enough to loan us his Mercedes S400 Hybrid and driver to take us back from Forshan after our visit.
So Better Place have a similar visitor centre to the one in Israel. They show a similar film to the one in Israel. There are no side screens with Shai Agassi and the content has been modified to tell a more Chinese story. I felt the global green elements were toned down and the positive local pollution impact toned up. The air in Guangzhou was atrocious: I hated it.
The part they have which we don’t in Israel is a live battery switch. After the movie you’re taken into an amphitheatre room with a large white wall. After another very quick video projected on the wall, the wall lifts to reveal a car and a robot to switch batteries. I could see this isn’t the same as the system deployed in Israel today, but the result is the same. A live demonstration: there are many videos of this set up.
Then I went outside to be driven in and drive the old Renault Laguna prototype cars which were originally used in Israel. The interior spec is far nicer than my present Renault Fluence Z.E. but they are not good to drive. Not very smooth at slow speeds, slower to pull away and generally less refined. Not bad, but definitely a prototype car not a finished product. They have considerably bigger motors but also weigh a great deal more. They might feel quicker at high speed, but we didn’t get to any high speeds and they’re more ponderous when accelerating.
I’d like to thank Better Place China for a great visit: they were also excited to meet a real customer and hear about the day to day experience of driving within the Better Place system.