The struggling electric car industry in China needs something to recharge it. And a little star power, in the form of Leonardo DiCaprio, could be what the industry needs to bolster sales of electric cars in an otherwise booming automotive market.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the Oscar-nominated American actor announced his involvement in what is surely to be a high-profile electric-car racing circuit that will have its inaugural season in Beijing next fall. DiCaprio’s team will reportedly be one of 10 teams participating in the race, which is expected to draw crowds of 300,000 people, with racers speeding at 220 kilometers (or 136 miles) per hour as part of the FIA Formula E Championships. While many may come to watch the A-list actor, promoters are hoping attendees will leave with a renewed interest in electric vehicles.
The Chinese -- which have become one of the world’s biggest consumer groups -- are not buying into the electric car hype. China’s electric-car market continues to drag for a variety of cultural, infrastructure and policy reasons, but that could soon change. “When people see electric cars racing, they will be more confident in buying electric cars,” Steven Lu, from Team China Racing Management, a team competing against DiCaprio at the event, said. “It’s a big showcase for Beijing.” Among the issues holding electric cars back are the lack of universal standards, with very few vendors being qualified to provide batteries for the industry as well as adequate charging stations.
Aside from the logistics of owning an electric car, there is an underlying status issue for the Chinese. While having a Tesla may line up with China’s nouveau riche culture, other companies don’t have the clout or status to compete against other luxury brand vehicles for Chinese cash. Again, the promotional event backed by an A-list Hollywood actor hopes to change that perception. “The glitz and glam surrounding the electric Formula car racing might just have enough panache to attract young Chinese to the electric car market,” Namrita Chow, manager and senior analyst at IHS Automotive, a consultancy, said. “If an electric car can be seen as ‘cool,’ then trends will develop with people aspiring to buy electric vehicles.”