(Reuters) - A pioneering electric taxi project in China's southern economic powerhouse of Shenzhen seems a success by most accounts. Riders are enthusiastic, there have been no accidents and drivers are termed "gracious," not a term usually applied to mainland drivers.
The pilot project, which could be replicated in other cities, underpins China's ambitious plans to put at least half a million electric vehicles (EV) and plug-in hybrids on the road by 2015.
The country is already the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels and other human activities that scientists say are causing global warming.
As the world's largest and fastest-growing auto market, China's carbon footprint can only grow.
To bolster China's energy security, Beijing has pronounced the electric vehicle industry a top priority, earmarking $1.5 billion annually for the next 10 years in the hope it can transform the country into one of the leading producers of clean vehicles.
But even with government support and the popular support of e-taxi customers, challenges remain for electric vehicles such as the e-taxis to gain broader acceptance and widespread use.
Charging stations are few and far between, repair shops are hard to find and the cars are costly. Even after generous government support, the Shenzhen e-taxi costs 80 percent more than the Volkswagen Santana that ordinarily cruises the streets of Shenzhen.
"The electric car is still too expensive and we ended up paying a lot more than for a (VW) Santana, even with government subsidies," said Du Jun, general manager of Pengcheng E-taxi, the taxi operator participating in the pilot project.
Local automakers, from SAIC Motor to Dongfeng Motor Group Co, have pledged massive investments in greener vehicles. Global automakers, including BMW and Nissan Motor, are also working with local governments to roll out their E-Mini and Leaf respectively.
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