As our battered shuttle bus bumped smokily through the traffic from Shanghai Pu Dong Airport to our hotel in the centre of the city yesterday, we drew up alongside a line of eye-catchingly vivid blue cars.
The cars in question were Volkswagen e-Ups, travelling line astern and standing out against the rash of black, silver and grey saloons in the city.
They were not strictly passenger cars; each was driven by an immaculately dressed, white-gloved chauffeur, presumably ferrying very important people who are in town for the Shanghai motor show.
It would have been a moment of stage-managed perfection on the part of Volkswagen, my host for tomorrow’s show, were it not entirely coincidental that our bus happened to be in the area.
This is my first visit here, and I’d been braced for a sensory assault from the traffic. In fact, during a stroll around the Bund district, I was surprised by the amount of quiet electric and hybrid vehicles on the road.
China is aggressively pushing EVs. Although they are by no means the answer to all of the challenges the nation faces – the methods by which the electricity is produced in the first place is another matter altogether – year-on-year sales of EVs are on the rise.
As in Europe, though, EVs are coming from such a low base that the numbers aren’t yet particularly significant when you consider the size of the market. I stress the word yet – national and local government is introducing all kinds of tax breaks and incentives to further boost sales.
More prevalent in Shanghai are electric scooters. I can say from first-hand experience that these present something of a hazard to inattentive foreigners, mounting silent, unseen attacks in the way that a sparrow hawk dives upon an unsuspecting field vole.
These electric scooters are of a simple construction and the majority of them look extremely well used. They seem like a great idea: if you want to get across Shanghai, it doesn’t matter whether your car is powered by petrol, electricity or boiled dumplings – you’ll be stuck in traffic. On an electric scooter, you can whizz around with abandon.
I’d imagine it’d be easier to find a charging point at your journey’s end too; most of the scooters we saw appeared to plug into conventional Chinese sockets, and many had removable battery packs that can be lugged into your home for recharging.
It will be interesting to see how new electric and hybrid vehicles are greeted when the Shanghai motor show opens tomorrow. Local manufacturers Changan and Zoyte are showing off electric concepts, while the likes of Audi, Peugeot and Volkswagen also have EVs and hybrids on their stands.