China is determined to become the low-emissions electric-car capital of the world. Unfortunately, its car buyers aren't cooperating.

The Chinese government has been spending billions on research grants, steep subsidies and new infrastructure — such as charging stations — to encourage consumers to go electric. It hopes to boost the number of such vehicles on the road 10-fold by the end of the decade.

One problem: Consumers are instead lining up to buy eco-unfriendly sport-utility vehicles. In 2015, Chinese drivers bought 6.2 million SUVs — up 52 percent year-over-year, and accounting for roughly a third of all car purchases. The same year, they bought a mere 189,000 plugin vehicles, or less than 1 percent of total purchases.