China’s Electric Car Graveyards Are A Spooky Symbol Of EV Industry’s Boom & Bust

It's a sorry, spooky sight.

China’s Electric Car Graveyards Are A Spooky Symbol Of EV Industry’s Boom & Bust

Image: Qilai Shen

Despite China’s soaring electric infrastructure, the take up of EVs themselves has not kept up with the country’s massive amount of supply.

The notion of EVs sat gathering dust may come as something of a surprise, given the fact that closer-to-home Aussie blokes are leading the charge for electric vehicle adoption and as a result have never been more popular in Australia. As legacy manufacturers continue to electrify their iconic models while new-age manufacturers compete for market space, it’s hard to imagine that a country could somehow ve oversupplying EVs to its population.

And yet, on the fringes of Hangzhou — a Chinese city known for its picturesque landscapes — a scene of stark contrast unfolds. A dilapidated temple overlooks what seems to be a graveyard, but not for the human departed. Instead, it is a final resting place for hundreds of abandoned electric cars, intermingled with the weeds that have begun to overgrow them and the rubbish that piles up around them, as vividly reported by Bloomberg.

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A number of similar sites have popped up across China, embodying the darker side of the nation’s electric vehicle boom. The graveyard phenomenon mirrors the initial surge of investments and innovation that marked the EV sector’s rapid development as new manufacturers emerged and government incentives beckoned: ride-hailing companies led the way and soon China had become a global EV leader, producing approximately 6 million EVs and plug-in hybrids in 2022 alone.

Unfortunately, many ride-hailing firms that embraced EVs have since vanished, leaving behind a trail of discarded vehicles. An estimated 500 Chinese electric car manufacturers in 2019 have dwindled to around 100 today, thanks in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the root cause of these graveyards actually lies in the accelerating pace of innovation: as automakers raced to introduce EVs with enhanced features and extended driving ranges, older models became obsolete at an alarming rate.

WATCH: It’s a sorry, spooky sight.

These graveyards are not just unsightly; they come with environmental costs. Quickly discarding these EVs undermines their ecological advantage, given that their production process is significantly more emissions-intensive than for fossil-fuelled counterparts. Moreover, their spent batteries contain valuable materials like nickel, lithium, and cobalt, all crucial resources for greening China’s EV industry.

The Hangzhou government has pledged to address the issue, but the landscape remains dotted with abandoned EVs, with the phenomenon encapsulating the intricate tapestry of an industry in flux. While some companies have faltered, the broader success story of China’s EV market speaks to the future. With extensive charging infrastructure and a global lead in clean car production, China’s road to sustainable transportation is far from over.

That last point is the most important thing to remember when enjoying this strange spectacle: while it doubtlessly represents an unfortunate waste of resources, it also represents a small stumbling block in a hugely impressive wider push for electrification that much of the Western world —the UK and the US in particularly — could learn a great deal from. While we might enjoy the haunting imagery these graveyards provide, China’s EV industry is alive and kicking, make no mistake.

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