China never mastered internal-combustion engines. Electric cars will be different
中国从没能精通内燃机。电动车会不一样【技术季刊《中国的技术》系列之二】

电动飞跃 Electric leapfrog-书迷号 shumihao.com

AT A SHINY new factory in the suburbs of the port city of Wenzhou in south-eastern China, a sturdy robot arm picks up a curved sheet of glass. As a vehicle crawls past it on a conveyor belt, the arm gently nestles the windscreen into its housing, then swivels back to get its greedy suction cups on the next one. Bleepy electronic versions of “Greensleeves” and “Baa Baa Black Sheep” blare out over the factory floor every so often, signalling break time for one of the various groups of human workers.
在温州郊区一家崭新的工厂里,一条粗壮的机械臂吸起一块弧形玻璃板。当一辆车从它旁边的传送带上缓缓经过,它把这块挡风玻璃轻轻嵌进框内,然后回转,把那贪婪的真空吸盘按到下一块玻璃板上。车间里不时乐声大作——《绿袖子》和《咩咩小黑羊》的电子乐片段——表示到了某一组工人的休息时间。

This is the first factory of a newish Chinese firm called WM Motor. At the end of the production line, brand new electric SUVs roll out into the world at a rate of about 16 every hour, two-thirds of the factory’s maximum rate. Though it currently makes only the one model, the company’s global ambitions are clear. The car’s Chinese name is Weima, which means “powerful horse”. Its Western name is a German word, Weltmeister, which means “world champion”. The German name is the one to focus on. Executives in China’s electric-vehicle industry believe it has a chance to do something that its older internal-combustion-engine carmakers never managed—become a global force.
这是创建不久的中国公司“威马汽车”的第一间工厂。在它生产线的尽头,全新的电动SUV以每小时16辆左右的速度问世,是这家工厂最高生产速度的三分之二。尽管目前只产一种车型,这家公司的全球野心已表露无遗。这款车的中文名字意思是“彪悍的马”,它的洋名是一个德语单词Weltmeister,意为“世界冠军”。这个德国名字才是重点。中国电动车行业的高层认为,它有机会做一件中国老一代内燃机汽车制造商一直没能做到的事——拥有全球影响力。

That is quite an ambition for a Chinese car company. Though China may now make nuclear-power plants able to dominate the world market, its domestic internal-combustion-engine cars cannot dominate even the Chinese market. The best-selling manufacturers are VW and Honda, whose vehicles are built by local joint ventures. This is because nuclear reactors, although they need extremely strong and carefully engineered components, are basically souped-up kettles. A car, and especially its engine, is something much finer, its pistons and valves continuously dancing, the string of explosions in each cylinder perfectly timed, the amount of torque transferred through the camshaft to the wheels just what the driver expects, all of it owned by someone who wants to devote as little time to maintaining this mechanical miracle as possible—ideally, none.
对一家中国汽车公司来说,这是一个相当大的野心。尽管中国现在有能力建造出能主导全球市场的核电厂,其国产内燃机汽车甚至无法主导自家市场。在中国最畅销的车型产自大众和本田,这些车均由本地合资企业生产。究其原因,虽然核反应堆需要极为坚固和精心设计的组件,它们从根本上说就是升级版烧水壶。而汽车——尤其是汽车的发动机——要精巧得多。它的活塞和气门不断跳动;每个气缸中的一次次小型爆炸都分秒不差;通过凸轮轴传递到车轮的扭力大小完全如司机所愿。而拥有这一切的汽车主人只想花尽可能少的时间来维持这一机械奇迹的运作——最好是根本不需要。

No amount of technology transfer, legitimate or otherwise, can boost a country to pole position in such an industry. As Japan and South Korea have shown, it takes decades of intense investment, hard graft and astute leadership to develop the engineering know-how and the intricate supply chains that make such things possible. China does not have the patience for that. “You would have to invest billions of dollars for another 20 years, and maybe then we would be getting close to the Germans,” says Freeman Shen, WM’s founder. “It’s hopeless.”
在这样一个产业里,再多的技术转移——不论合法与否——都无法把一个国家推至领先地位。正如日本和韩国证明的那样,需要几十年的大量投资、艰苦努力以及精明的领导才能培育出工程技术知识和错综复杂的供应链,让这样的奇迹成为可能。中国没有这种耐心了。“还得再花20年,投资几十亿美元。可能到了那时候我们才能接近德国人的水平,”威马的创始人沈晖说,“没指望了。”

Tapping into existing supply chains might make things easier; but although China has the access this takes in electronics, in cars it does not. And the car industry’s supply chains are lines of co-operation as well as commerce. To make affordable, high-quality cars you do not just need the likes of Bosch to sell you off-the-shelf components. You need their active co-operation in creating just the right parts. If providing that co-operation means risking established business with bigger, better incumbents, it is unlikely to be completely forthcoming.
借助现有的供应链可能会让事情容易些。但是,尽管中国在电子产业拥有这种渠道,在汽车产业却没有。而汽车产业的供应链不仅是贸易链,还是合作链。要制造国人买得起的优质车,不仅需要博世(Bosch)这样的公司出售现成的零部件,还需要它们积极合作来生产恰好合适的部件。如果提供这种合作可能危及与更大、更好的老牌企业的现有业务,那它就不那么容易发生了。

No ICE, baby
自己来吧

Chinese EV firms like WM think that the fact that they depend on a completely different—and more electronic—set of components means they can do an end-run around the internal-combustion incumbents, taking the lead in a new industry rather than catching up in an old one. And they are the only ray of light in a very gloomy Chinese carmaking outlook. The rest of the car market has been shrinking for 16 straight months. Sales of EVs have been set back by cuts to the government subsidy programme in 2019, but nonetheless the government still wants a quarter of all cars sold by 2025 to be electric. Today they account for only 7% of the market. But China being China, that still works out as 1.5m vehicles a year, making it the largest EV market in the world.
像威马这样的中国电动汽车公司认为,既然自己依赖一套完全不同、更电子化的组件,就可以绕过制造内燃机汽车的老企业,在一个新的行业里取得领先,而不是在一个老行业里追赶别人。而且,它们也是中国汽车制造业十分黯淡的前景中唯一的一缕曙光。这个汽车市场的其余部分已经连续16个月萎缩。电动车销售因2019年政府补贴削减而受挫,尽管如此,政府仍希望到2025年电动车占到新车销量的四分之一。目前它们仅占7%。不过,这毕竟是中国,目前这个比例仍然意味着每年150万辆车,令它成为全球最大的电动车市场。

The market is dominated by Chinese incumbents moving from internal-combustion vehicles to EVs. But there is also a pack of startups. Nio may be the most famous, but WM is perhaps the most ambitious. It owns and operates all of its factories, and although it said it had delivered only 12,600 cars in 2019 when your correspondent visited in October, it says it will soon have the capacity to produce 200,000 a year in Wenzhou, and that a slightly bigger plant in Huanggang, 630km inland in Hubei province, will make another 300,000 cars a year when it is completed.
这个市场由那些从内燃机汽车转向电动车的中国老牌企业主宰,但也有一批创业公司。蔚来可能是其中名声最大的,但野心最大的可能当属威马。它拥有并运营旗下所有工厂。尽管本文作者10月份到访时,它自称在2019年只交付了12,600辆车,但也说不久它将在温州拥有年产20万辆车的能力,而在往内陆630公里的湖北黄冈,一座规模稍大些的工厂在建成后将每年再生产30万辆车。

These facilities come with the compliments of the provincial governments in Zhejiang and Hubei. Officials see the factories as bringing their provinces jobs, prestige and VAT receipts, which in China are collected when the car leaves the factory. And if WM succeeds, the officials associated with it will earn the sort of kudos that can elevate them a long way in the party hierarchy. Nio and Xpeng, WM’s venture-capital-backed competitors, have not yet benefited from quite this level of largesse. They are having their cars made by contract manufacturers, which is less capital-intensive but also yields less control over the process.
这些设施由浙江和湖北省政府免费提供。官员们认为这些工厂为当地带来了工作岗位、声誉和增值税收据(在中国是在汽车出厂时收取)。而如果威马成功了,与之相关的官员将荣誉加身,在党内的地位青云直上。威马两个靠风险资本支持的竞争对手蔚来和小鹏尚未得到过这种程度的慷慨投资。它们的汽车交由合同制造商生产,相对而言不需要那么多资金,但对整个过程的控制也相应较少。

Getting high-tech factories built for nothing gives WM a chance to achieve something that China’s combustion-engine car companies never managed: develop core technology that is globally competitive. Mr Shen, a car-industry veteran, says he has had 1,000 engineers dedicated to working on electric vehicles for the past four years. “I guarantee that the largest car company in the world, Volkswagen, does not have 1,000 engineers dedicated to electric vehicles,” he says.
自己不花一分钱就建成高科技工厂,这让威马有机会实现中国内燃机汽车公司从未取得的成就:研发出具全球竞争力的核心技术。在汽车行业摸爬滚打多年的沈晖说,过去四年,他手下有一千名工程师专门研发电动车。“我可以打包票说,全球最大的汽车公司大众也不会有一千名工程师专门做电动车。”

Mr Shen’s focus is on the EV’s battery packs and the power-management systems that distribute electricity around the vehicle. Because the battery pack is the most expensive part of the car, squeezing the same range out of less battery is a competitive advantage; that is what WM’s innovative battery-cell configurations are meant to do. Mr Shen says WM holds 1,200 patents, with the most important ones around the car’s battery, electric motor and control system. That is because such innovations could be reverse-engineered. The software that manages the battery’s thermal properties in a crash, on the other hand, is a complex trade secret.
沈晖专注的重点是电动车的电池组和向汽车各部分输送电力的电力管理系统。因为电池组是汽车最昂贵的组件,用更少的电池跑相同的里程数就成了一种竞争优势。这正是威马创新电池配置的目标。沈晖说,威马有1200项专利,其中最重要的那些涉及电池、电动机和控制系统。这是因为这类创新是能被逆向工程解析的。而在车辆碰撞事故中管理电池热特性的软件本身是复杂的行业机密。

Mr Shen says he expects the best electric-car companies to start building their own batteries eventually. Those have hitherto been sourced from giant companies like CATL, a Chinese firm which holds a large share of the global electric-vehicle-battery market. Big car companies would never source their engines from third parties; integrating them closely into the design and production process improves overall performance. Mr Shen expects electric cars to be no different.
沈晖说,他预期一批最杰出的电动车公司最终会开始自产电池。到目前为止,这些电池都是从宁德时代新能源科技公司这样的大企业采购。这家中国公司在全球电动车电池市场中占据了很大的份额。大型汽车公司永远不会从第三方采购引擎,这是因为把引擎密切融合到设计和生产工序中能够提高汽车的整体性能。沈晖预计电动车也一样。

Beside Nio and Xpeng, WM’s stiffest competition in China will come from two foreign firms, Tesla and VW. Tesla’s boss, Elon Musk, says the company’s Shanghai gigafactory will be making 1,000 cars a week by the end of 2019; they will mostly be its Model 3, which is both its cheapest car and, at 355,800 yuan ($50,000), still very expensive for the Chinese market. The factory, built in just eight months, is designed to make 500,000 cars a year.
除蔚来和小鹏外,威马在中国遭遇的最激烈竞争将来自两家外国公司:特斯拉和大众。特斯拉的老板伊隆·马斯克曾表示,到2019年底该公司在上海的超级工厂将每周生产1000辆车,主要是Model 3这款特斯拉最便宜的车型,售价为355,800元——对中国市场而言仍然很贵。这座工厂仅用了八个月时间建成,目标年产50万辆车。

Meanwhile, Volkswagen is refitting one existing Chinese factory and building a brand new factory to produce 600,000 EVs a year. It expects to produce 1m electric cars a year in the country by 2022 and to have manufactured 11.6m electric cars in China by 2028. If those ambitions are fulfilled the firm’s EVs will have captured about 5% of the total Chinese car market.
与此同时,大众正在翻新一家中国旧工厂,同时在建一座全新工厂,总共将年产60万辆电动车。它预期到2022年在中国年产100万辆电动车,到2028年,在中国生产出的电动车总数将达到1160万。如果这些雄心壮志得偿所愿,那么该公司的电动车将占据中国整个汽车市场5%左右的份额。

Plug me in, beam me up
充上电,送我上路

All this ambition suggests that there may be a bust on the way, and that the EV startups may suffer badly from it. WM is hoping to turn those particular lemons, grown through overzealous and incontinent state aid, into lemonade. It expects many of its smaller competitors to go bust over the next few years, especially now that the subsidy programme has been stopped. That will free up talented engineers.
所有这些野心都显示出中途折翼的可能性,而电动车创业公司可能遭受重创。威马希望,那些依赖狂热、无节制的国家补助发展起来的公司倒下将是坏事变好事。它预期自己那些较小的竞争对手中有许多会在未来几年里破产,尤其是因为补贴项目已经中止。而这将释放出一批有才华的工程师。

A more rationally delivered advantage that the state is providing for WM and others hoping to sell EVs in China is charging infrastructure. This makes buyers more confident. The state also facilitates the roll-out of advanced technical features for the benefit of the public at large. Mr Shen says that WM is planning a pilot with State Grid, China’s largest utility, in 2020 whereby the batteries in its customers’ cars will be used as grid storage to help balance the flow of electricity in Beijing and Shanghai.
面对威马和其他希望在中国销售电动车的企业,中国政府在一个方面提供了更理性的助力:充电基础设施。这让电动车买家更有信心。政府也在提供便利来促进企业推出能造福普罗大众的先进技术功能。沈晖表示,威马正在规划与中国最大的公用事业公司国家电网在2020年开展一个试点项目,让买家的车内电池被用作电网蓄电池,帮助北京和上海的供电平衡。

Even if WM fails, China is set to be a large market for EVs long before any other country, and that will benefit the industry as a whole. Because the government demands that all cars sold in China are made with Chinese components, the country will come to host the world’s most important supply chains for electric cars. This opens up the possibility that Chinese supply chains will eventually be used to provide components for the rest of world, as with smartphones.
即使威马失败了,中国也将远早于其他任何国家成为电动车大型市场,而这将使整个行业受益。中国政府要求在中国销售的所有汽车实现零部件国产化,这将让它成为世界上最重要的电动车供应链的所在地。这就开辟了一种可能性:中国的供应链最终将为世界其他地区提供零部件,就像在智能手机领域那样。

It also suggests that such a strategy could see Chinese EV makers capture a lot of the value from vehicles made elsewhere. Their simplicity, compared with cars powered by internal combustion, makes EVs easier to manufacture in sections. Because there are no cooling fluids to pump around the vehicle, no drivetrain to run through the floor of the cabin, and no engine block poised to crush occupants in the event of a crash, the top and the bottom of the car can easily be separated out and produced independently. The bottom part, which contains the complexity of battery and power-management electronics, is called the “skateboard”, and embodies the lion’s share of the value of the car.
这也表明这种策略可以使中国的电动车制造商从世界其他地方生产的汽车中捕获很多价值。与内燃机驱动的汽车相比,电动车的简洁使它更易于分拆制造。电动车上没有冷却液被泵送至车的各个角落,没有动力传动系统穿过车厢底板,也没有会在撞车时挤压乘客的发动机缸体,所以汽车的顶部和底部可以被轻松分离开来独立生产。包含复杂的电池和电力管理电子元件的底部被叫做“滑板”,它占了汽车价值中最大的一块。

Mr Shen imagines a scenario in which his firm’s skateboards are shipped around the world to be integrated with bodies and interiors created by other manufacturers that have failed to create their own core EV technology. It would be a complete reversal of the situation today, where Chinese car companies need Western firms to supply the most valuable components. China’s huge market for EVs is creating a supply chain that startups like WM and self-reinventing incumbents like vw will rely on. That may end up being an advantage for the Chinese industry on a global scale.
沈晖想象这样一种情景:自己公司生产的滑板被运往世界各地,与其他没能自行创造出核心电动车技术的制造商所生产的车身和内饰整合在一起。这将完全扭转今天的局面——目前中国的汽车公司需要西方企业提供最有价值的组件。中国庞大的电动车市场正在创建一条供应链,威马等创业公司和大众这类自我革新的老企业都将依赖它。这最终可能成为中国电动车产业在全球范围里的一大优势。