By Joseph White
DETROIT (Reuters) - Chinese automakers are on track to produce 49 of the 103 new electric car models that will be launched globally by 2020, as part of China's push to accelerate the switch to battery power from oil, according to a new forecast released on Wednesday.
U.S. consulting firm AlixPartners also said China is aiming to have nearly two-thirds of the world's manufacturing capacity for lithium-ion batteries by 2021, and is investing to support current sales of domestic-brand electric vehicles in the world's largest car market.
Already, Chinese automakers account for 96 percent of the electric vehicles sold in the country, AlixPartners said. Automakers sold about 350,000 electric vehicles in China in 2016 - still less than 2 percent of total vehicle sales.
By 2025, electric vehicle batteries should be close to even with internal combustion engines in terms of production costs, AlixPartners forecast. Lower battery costs could help boost consumer acceptance.
John Hoffecker, the firm's global vice chairman, told reporters at the Automotive Press Association in Detroit on Tuesday that other factors, such as a significant reduction of the time it takes to recharge electric car batteries, will be critical to efforts to win over reluctant consumers.
AlixPartners also cautioned that many of the roughly 50 companies it counts as contestants in the race to develop self-driving cars won't go the distance. "It's impossible to believe there will be 50 successful autonomous vehicle companies," Hoffecker said.
In the United States, AlixPartners said automakers will have to contend with funding investments in new technology against deep-pocketed technology industry players such as Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc, even as sales of cars and light trucks slide into a cyclical trough.
AlixPartners is forecasting that U.S. car and light truck sales will fall to 15.2 million vehicles in 2019, down 13 percent from the 2016 peak. Other U.S. analysts also predict a slowdown in vehicle sales during the next two to three years.
(Reporting by Joe White; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)