The Real Story of That Chinese EV Graveyard Isn’t What You Were Told

They're left behind from a big business gone bust, but that business wasn't making EVs.
A graveyard of abandoned electric cars in China
via Inside China Auto on YouTube

You’ve probably seen that video circulating the internet of a field full of supposedly unsold EVs in China by now. They’re claimed to be all manner of things, from the result of defrauding Chinese EV subsidies to evidence that EVs aren’t selling. But while the site is indeed a car graveyard—for the most part, anyway—it’s the final resting place of an industry other than car manufacturing.

The field of cars was explored by Inside China Auto on YouTube, who translated the markings on the cars to explain their origins. The site is widely purported to contain up to 10,000 unsold new EVs, for the reasons outlined above.

However, a closer look reveals the opposite to be true: These are not new EVs, and they only number in the hundreds. Most are five to six years old and have seen significant use, with aftermarket accessories, trash in their interiors, and other signs of wear. That’s because you’re looking at a fleet of retired rideshare cars that were once operated in large cities in China.

The way Inside China Auto tells it, there was an e-bike sharing bubble in 2016 that was rapidly copied by services offering short-range EV rentals. But just like in the United States, these ventures struggled, as they were far more expensive to start and maintain than bike sharing. That cost was passed on to customers, who could apparently rent a bike, ride the subway, or even take a taxi for less than these ride shares would cost. What’s more, renting an EV was often slower than these alternatives. They also left you to park a car at the end of your journey, at either an inconvenient stall or in a paid spot.

In the end, these businesses’ failures and the rapid advancement of China’s auto industry have orphaned hundreds if not thousands of beaten-up short-range EVs, most of which are worse value than a cheap new Chinese EV. That said, they’re not the only occupants of the lot. A wider view reveals that the ex-rideshare cars also share their space with retired taxis, wrecked cars, and some new, unregistered EVs from foreign brands (which are indeed struggling to sell).

While EV uptake is indeed approaching a slowdown, it’s for reasons more complicated than sensationalism on controversial topics like China and EVs would have you believe.

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