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Opinion
Adam Minter

To See the Future of Electric Cars, Look East

China's low-end models are set to dominate the world market.
Subsidies give Chinese manufacturers a huge cost advantage.

Subsidies give Chinese manufacturers a huge cost advantage.

Photographer: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images

Nevada is starting to look like the place where the electric car's future will be decided. Last June, Tesla broke ground on a $5 billion battery plant in Sparks, and on Wednesday, Chinese start-up Faraday Future announced that it had chosen a Las Vegas suburb as the site for a new $1 billion plant to make electric vehicles. Faraday hopes to roll out a competitor to Tesla’s flagship Model S in 2017.

But as glitzy as these bets are, the real action is happening in China, where smoggy skies and government subsidies are creating the perfect conditions for electric vehicles to thrive. The proof is in the numbers. According to data released this week by the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, sales of electric cars are poised to exceed those in the U.S. for the first time ever. Already, they’ve grown 290 percent year-on-year to 171,145 vehicles. They're expected to reach 220,000 to 250,000 for the year, whereas the U.S. market is predicted to top out at around 180,000 cars.