Only a decade or so after China embraced private car ownership with a vengeance, Beijing is looking into how and when the country can effectively eliminate domestic production of fossil fuel vehicles. Speaking at an industry forum over the weekend, Vice Minister of Industry and Information Technology, Xin Guobin (辛国斌) explained "the relevant departments nationwide are creating a timetable for phasing out traditional fuel vehicles".
Xin made his comments at the 2017 Forum on the Development of China's Automotive Industry, held in Tianjin. Speaking to industry leaders, Xin offered no timetable for ending the manufacture of diesel and gasoline vehicles. He did however point to the country's growing ability to innovate and produce hydrogen and battery powered engines.
The country has pledged to cap carbon emissions by 2030, and then gradually reduce its footprint over subsequent years. This sort of commitment will undoubtedly involve cars, and Xin believes the country is realistically approaching a time when alternative fuel vehicles can become the norm. "China has increased its technical capacity to make new energy cars, to the point that in some market segments we can compete with large international brands," he said at the automotive forum.
Before Beijing does ban the production of cars and trucks powered with petroleum products, serious infrastructure changes will have to occur. China has at least 200 million vehicles on its roads, as well as the gas stations to power them. But the country currently claims only 116,000 charging stations for electric and hydrogen vehicles.
That number is expected to rise organically, as demand for alternative fuel cars is skyrocketing. Half of all new energy cars bought globally in 2016 were purchased in China, a statistic Beijing wants to increase drastically in the coming seven years. But consumer concerns remain over the dependability and driving range of battery powered vehicles. Figuring out how to keep the 47 major Chinese automobile companies profitable over the course of any industry-wide transition is another consideration.
Such concerns will take time — perhaps years — to properly address, which is most likely why Xin offered up no immediate timetable for ending the production of traditional vehicles. However, his statements do show at least some commitment to China's signing of the Paris Agreement. Xin's announcement also places China in a select club of countries with similar goals. Germany, Holland, India and Norway have all committed to selling only zero-emission vehicles — all before 2030. The trick for China is figuring out how to make it possible in the world's largest car market.
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