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2019-05-24 12:55:28

In central China, top government officials’ visit to a company that claims to have produced the world’s first water-fueled vehicle was intended to highlight the supposed achievement, but the publicity stunt has instead backfired.

Unseemly details about Youngman Automobile Group and its president, Pang Qingnian, have surfaced online this week, casting a shadow over recent praise from the secretary of the municipal Communist Party committee in Henan province’s Nanyang City. While visiting a Youngman assembly unit in Nanyang on Wednesday, Zhang Wenshen told local media outlets that the vehicle “is very good” after a test ride, adding that the company’s engine paved the way to “a bright future for hydrogen-vehicle programs.” The Nanyang Daily reported that “water can be turned into hydrogen in real time, and the vehicles only need to add water for them to run.”

But in a report Friday by The Beijing News, the Nanyang Bureau of Industry and Information Technology said that the local paper’s reporting on the water-fueled vehicle was inaccurate and that it had asked Pang to clarify the claims in a written report. In 2017, Pang had claimed that the vehicle is fueled only with water, which reacts with a catalyst to produce hydrogen that powers the vehicle. A 200-kilogram water tank can give a 500- kilometer mileage, according to Pang.

Pang told Sixth Tone’s sister publication, The Paper, on Friday that his company’s investment in and technology for water-fueled vehicles is “a secret,” adding that his team invented the catalyst on their own but haven’t applied for a patent yet. Sixth Tone’s phone calls to the head office of Youngman Auto Group and the Nanyang government’s administrative office went unanswered.

“They (Youngman Auto) are hyping the concept of water-hydrogen fuel,” Hu Mingruo, associate professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s School of Mechanical Engineering, told Sixth Tone, adding that onboard technology for turning a water-based methanol solution into hydrogen fuel is currently considered neither practical nor economically viable for vehicular use.

Media reports further reveal that Youngman has received massive government funding for its vehicle project. According to Henan province’s list of government investments released in March, Nanyang Hi-Tech Industries Development Zone invested 1 billion yuan ($145 million) in the hydrogen-powered vehicle industrial park where Youngman’s Nanyang factory is located.

Jinhua Youngman Auto, a subsidiary of Youngman Automobile Group, signed a contract with Nanyang Hi-Tech Industries Development Zone on Dec. 28 to manufacture hydrogen-powered vehicles, according to the latter’s website. The program, worth over 8 billion yuan, is expected to start selling vehicles by 2020, raising 30 billion yuan in revenue and contributing tens of billions of yuan in taxes, as well as creating over 1,000 jobs.

Youngman Auto Group and its subsidiaries have been involved in several loan dispute cases, according to legal documents in the public domain. Jinhua Youngman Auto was caught in a subsidy scam in 2017 for replacing batteries with smaller ones on 245 new-energy buses, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. Pang, who serves as the CEO and chairman of the board at Youngman, was also found to have 48 companies under his name and was listed as a “dishonest individual” for defaulting on Youngman's loans.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: Local officials try a “water-fueled” vehicle in Nanyang, Henan province, May 22, 2019. From @南阳报业传媒 on Weibo)