China goes car crazy

The land of proletarian bicycles might soon be taken over by cars, which will bring in their wake the problems of pollution and dwindling energy supplies

Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

In memoriam: carted into histo The car revolution has finally swept over China. The leaders of China's Communist Party have unveiled a plan to expand the automobile industry and boost private purchase of cars, once considered an aberration in the land of bicycles and handcarts. The production goal for vehicles by the end of this decade is 3 million a year, half of them "people's cars" -- against this year's target of 1.3 million vehicles, of which only 350,000 are cars.

Although the details of the proposed car are still not available, there are indications that the car will be made in China but will incorporate Western technology that emphasises on modern safety standards, pollution control and fuel efficiency. The family sedans, which are estimated to cost less than $5,000 apiece, will go on the assembly line in 1996 or 1997.

Sensing a good business opportunity, the us, the Japanese and the European automakers are rushing to tie up with China's state-owned automobile companies. The corporations most likely to strike it big in China are those that are already manufacturing cars there: Volkswagen ag, Chrysler Corp, Peugeot, Citroen, General Motors and Ford.

However, some Chinese and Western analysts are sceptical about the effects of a possible automobile boom in China. The experience of the industrialised nations, they maintain, should warn China about its perennial problems of traffic congestion, pollution and dwindling energy supplies. "If the Chinese try to model themselves on the United States, Japan or South Korea, there is simply not enough crude oil on the planet for them to import and, of course, it will speed up the arrival of the 3rd oil crisis. The automobile cannot be extended to 1.2 billion Chinese, not even to 100 million or 200 million," says Vaclav Smil, a Canadian scientist and expert on China's growth, according to the International Herald Tribune.

Infrastructural constraints also could get in China's way. Roads and highways in China are in bad shape and need rebuilding, particularly in rural areas where dirt tracks and narrow lanes are the norm. Huge investments would, therefore, have to be made to beef up the infrastructure.

China has time yet to cut its losses and plan an improved transportation system. Otherwise, it will be condemned to repeat the mistakes committed by the other affluent nations, which are now face to face with heavy environmental losses -- a result of their reckless vehicular expansion.

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