In smog-choked China, drivers check out electric cars

Some dealers are saying inquiries about all-electric models are up by almost a 10th.

FILE: Automakers said it was too early to say if the increase in inquiries would translate into actual sales. Picture /CNN screengrab

BEIJING - The heavy smog shrouding Beijing is proving to be a boon for China's nascent electric car market, with some dealers saying inquiries about all-electric models are up by almost a 10th.

Beijing issued a first pollution "red alert" on Monday, and set out measures to combat the hazardous smog, including limiting the use of conventional petrol-powered and hybrid cars to alternate days.

But all-electric vehicles are free to drive in the capital at any time. And that's prompted a rush of inquiries from would-be buyers, dealers and automakers say.

"I'm considering (an electric car) as the new policy means electric cars aren't limited from driving on heavy pollution days while other types are," said Wang Chao, 26, sizing up electric vehicles at a BYD Co Ltd dealership on Wednesday.

Automakers including Tesla Motors and Beijing Automotive Group's electric car subsidiary say they have seen an uptick in potential buyers asking about pure electric cars in Beijing because of the pollution, though many don't dare leave home to do so.

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BYD, backed by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, is also playing off the smog in its advertising. Posters on social media for the e6 carry a promotion offering free pollution masks for anyone visiting one of Li's dealerships.

"Evil pollution invades, and you don"t have a monkey king?" reads another advertisement on BYD's official microblog, showing a man in a cloud of pollution calling for help from China's fabled Monkey King hero.

Automakers said it was too early to say if the increase in inquiries would translate into actual sales.