A growing movement to eventually ban combustion engine cars has received a boost with a statement from China — the world’s largest car market — that it is studying such a move.
Comments by a senior government official published on Sunday signalled that China might soon join the UK and France. Both countries recently announced they would prohibit the production of diesel and petrol cars by 2040.
“Some countries have made a timeline for when to stop the production and sales of traditional fuel cars,” said industry vice-minister Xin Guobin in an article published by Xinhua, China’s official news agency.
“The ministry has also started relevant research and will make such a timeline with relevant departments. Those measures will certainly bring profound changes for our car industry’s development,” he said, predicting “turbulent” times ahead for the auto industry.
Were China to adopt such a policy and provide a deadline, it would lend new force to efforts to end the reign of the internal combustion engine.
China has the world’s largest automobile manufacturing base — producing 28m vehicles overall in 2016, according to the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers. The figure includes commercial vehicles as well as cars and represents nearly 30 per cent of the world total of 94m last year.
Beijing is concerned about rising urban pollution, climate change and China’s dependence on imported foreign oil supplies, and has been encouraging the nascent new energy vehicle (NEV) industry with measures such as subsidies and easier access to car registration for NEV buyers.
The government also sees the advent of electric vehicles as a way to leapfrog global carmakers and secure a larger chunk of the car business for Chinese carmakers, which have never been particularly strong at making combustion engines. With 507,000 NEVs sold domestically in 2016, China leads the world as an electric vehicle market.
NEVs were recently identified as a priority by the Chinese industrial policy known as Made in China 2025, and the sector is one of 10 high-tech industries in which China wants to create national champions that will be globally competitive.
新能源汽车最近被列为中国产业政策《中国制造2025》(Made in China 2025)的一个重点，该行业是中国想要缔造具有全球竞争力的国家冠军企业的十大高新技术产业之一。
China surpassed the US in 2009 to become the world’s biggest car market and has set the ambitious goal of reaching 7m annual NEV sales by 2025. Buoyed by generous subsidies and meteoric sales, more than 200 companies have announced their intention to make and sell NEVs in China.
China’s government is also setting up a policy of carbon trading that will encourage NEV production, to be implemented as early as next year. This will require all carmakers to produce a quota of NEVs or buy carbon credits to compensate. Draft rules, part of an effort to jump-start the local production of electric vehicles, have been circulating but have yet to become law.
Late last month, Reuters reported that China was likely to delay implementing these production quotas for electric vehicles, giving global automakers more time to prepare.