He noted that a superior technology for autos doesn't necessarily spur its takeup rate, citing "painfully slow" acceptance of diesel in the U.S. despite traditional cost-benefit analysis suggesting it is compelling for that market due to greater highway driving.
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But Michaeli expects EVs, as well as CNGs (clean natural gas) will disrupt the auto market over the longer term.
"From an operating cost perspective, electric vehicles (EVs) remain superior with a fuel cost-per-mile of only $0.04, even superior to CNG at $0.07 and of course far superior to conventional gasoline ($0.15)," he said.
To be sure, the fate of EVs isn't likely to be left solely to market forces. "The Chinese government has set itself major targets to see over half a million new energy vehicles deployed by end-2015 and over 2 million by end-2020," Namrita Chow, an analyst at IHS, said via email. "There has recently been an influx of regulations to encourage NEV (neighborhood electric vehicle) sales—particularly benefitting pure electric vehicles and plug in hybrid electric vehicles."
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Bloomberg reported Wednesday, citing sources, that China is considering providing funding of as much as 100 billion yuan ($16.27 billion) to build EV-charging stations.
"The introduction of the Formula E racing in Beijing and other premium EV events is part of an overall attempt to raise the awareness of EVs to Chinese consumers," Chow noted, adding that while the EV sales volume in China is still relatively limited, the growth rate has been "quite spectacular."
According to UBS data, around 12,800 EVs were sold in China in 2012, with around 64,000 expected to sell by the end of this year.
—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1