The stones in the road for China's 2025 plan on electric vehicles

Marco goes the extra mile. He already gave us some insight into his work as a data journalist at the South China Morning Post (SMCP) in our SquirrelTalk (which you can read here). In this piece, he explains how this impressive visual story about China’s role in the market for electric vehicles (EVs) was created.

This article is part of a series of visual stories in which we covered the Chinese government’s plan to develop the country in the coming years and establish China as a leadingcountry in key areas – like the EV-market. I assigned the topics to four of our colleagues and handled two topics myself. I had a rather tight deadline: Just one week to research and write the article, analyze the data, create the graphics, and create print versions.

Most of the available data on electric cars was about sales and economics: boring stuff. This data is important to explain to readers why the topic is important, but it’s not the material you use to create a visual story. That was a problem because the initial idea was about this part in particular.

My solution was to complement that part with something else. Usually, I create a document containing everything I can find on a topic, any specific angle, reference or interview. Then, I pick the good ones and develop the analysis based on them.

I split the topic into smaller sections:

  1. Why is it important (the boring part, mostly done in small charts)
  2. Why is it a problem (raw material providers)
  3. Why is difficult to achieve (findings watching a map)
  4. How it works (again small charts and diagrams)

When I was doing more research I found this story about the cobalt precedence (cobalt is a an important raw material for the batteries that fuel EVs): Lots of data on production and trade, the demand for cobalt and other minerals by the industry and the fact that much of the cobalt is extracted manually in Africa and will end up in Europe or USA as a final product.

Trying to understand this, I created a few sketches for myself: I realised that it was a nice idea to explain that part quickly and focus my efforts on the maps section.

My curiosity lead me to check if China had a public network of stations to charge electric cars. I know that the United States have a lot of stations – but in China, there are even fewer than I expected.

I got the data by using the info tag website of OpenStreetMaps. I actually started out looking at huge a area , but there was nothing around. This is how I found another part of the story I could tell visually.

Through the sales data, I confirmed that the BYD electric car, particularly the E6, was the most popular car in China. According to the company, BYD’s E6 car model has a 300km battery range So all I needed to do was to trace 150km and 300 ranges from the stations over the roads of China to show which parts of the country are actually accessible via electric cars.

I did this in QGIS, then I recoloured the map sections in photoshop to give it the desired look. For the print version, I decided to use only the range maps. But it turns out that, on paper, the style doesn’t work. So I created a new, print-friendly versions of each of the maps.In the end, I had created four maps for desktop views, four for mobile devices and five for the print version in just a week.

Our readers’ reaction to the story was really good: The graphic surpassed the our usual number of clicks very quickly, even becoming one of the most-read stories of the series. The print edition also ran well, I assume: People in China got a copy and enjoyed it. I am not sure about the numbers, though, because the SCMP is banned in Mainland China.

You can find the full project 👉 here.


Marco Hernandez Solano

"I'm a visual journalist, but my business card says I'm the Director of digital design …. I just know I'm happy doing graphics"

Marco is a former senior infographics designer at La Nación and a lecturer in information design at the Science and Arts University of Costa Rica. At South China Morning Post (SCMP), he develops online visual stories.

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