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Clean Error: On cars, China may be shifting from quantity to quality

By Email author - Fri, 09 Sep 2011 12:05:00 GMT
On cars, China may be shifting from quantity to quality

Detroit's title as the "Motor City" doesn't figure to fade away anytime soon. But China has fast become the Motor Country – maybe a little too fast, according to the Chinese government.

In a departure from years of ambitious expansion, government officials last weekend implored Chinese automakers to focus on making more advanced, fuel-efficient cars instead of simply focusing on volume, as had been the philosophy during China's automotive explosion over the past decade.

According to the New York Times, Jiang Kejun, director of the Energy Research Institute at the National Development and Reform Commission, said on Sunday: "The government must take the leading role in controlling unrealistic growth" of the auto industry.

Lu Shize, head of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, added that "or the auto industry to develop, we should not try to sell more, but to improve the units sold."

Automation - car industry

Image Credit: © Blaz Kure

These remarks, according to the Times, "strongly suggest" that the government will end its current subsidy scheme aimed at stimulating automotive sales. There would be subsidies, said Xiang Dihai, director of economic construction at the Finance Ministry, but those subsidies would be earmarked for fuel-efficient vehicles.

Government subsidies have helped fuel the double-digit expansion of China's auto industry. China produced nearly 17 million vehicles in 2010, up from less than two million in 2000. Over that same span, the number of cars and motorcycles in China increased 20-fold. And this despite less than seven percent of Chinese people owning cars – about half of the global average.

This unprecedented growth has helped China usurp the United States and Japan as the world's leading automotive manufacturer.

But there have been drawbacks to China's emergence as the world's biggest car country. There was the infamous traffic jam last summer that last nearly two weeks and spanned some 60 miles. The car boom has also added to the country's highly-publicized air pollution problem.

auto industry in china

Image Credit: © Arteki

As such, a shift toward fuel-efficient automobiles would be a way to both reign in the industry's unsustainable growth, as well as alleviate the logistical and environmental hazards posed by the prospect of an overly-automotive China.

As a possible indication of China's newfound emphasis on clean automotive technology, the government has refused to give subsidies of up to $19,300 per car to buyers of the Chevy Volt "unless G.M. agrees to transfer the engineering secrets for one of the Volt's three main technologies to a joint venture in China with a Chinese automaker," according to the New York Times. Such subsidies are currently available for electric cars manufactured by Chinese companies.

Technology transfers like this have helped China's exploding wind energy sector, as well as its high-speed rail system.

Clean Error is an Earth Times blog that looks at China's position as both the world's biggest polluter and fastest-growing manufacturer of green technology. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

Top Image Credit: Highway in Shanghai, China © bspguy

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