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August 5th, 2008:

Pollution, Fuel Costs Among Worries As More Chinese Own Cars

06:53 AM CDT on Tuesday, August 5, 2008 – By JIM LANDERS / The Dallas Morning News

SHANGHAI – For 26-year-old bachelor Yin Guangzi, owning a car is about the status.

“It’s very important for face,” he said as he browsed a Volkswagen showroom. “Your car is your second sweetheart.”

Young mother Zhu Saijuan says it’s about taking along her 3-year-old daughter when she needs to get somewhere.

Whether it’s for bling or babies, China is becoming an auto nation. The communist government first allowed people to own a vehicle in 1984. By the end of this year, about 50 million cars will ply China’s expanding network of streets and highways.

“The market has absolutely exploded,” said Margaret Brooks, marketing director of General Motors’ China Group.

Some auto industry analysts predict that China will eclipse the U.S. by 2015 to become the world’s largest car market.

That’s good for ailing automakers like GM, which expects to sell 1.2 million new cars in China this year (out of global sales of about 9 million). It’s also good for middle-class Chinese gaining the freedom of mobility.

Adding to pollution

But cars are also the main culprits in China’s chronically polluted air. Cars are responsible for China’s fast-growing appetite for oil as well, which is feeding this year’s price shocks and straining the global energy balance.

Many of China’s economic leaders say China is on an unsustainable car-buying path. Science and Technology Minister Wan Gang last month said Chinese manufacturers need to move quickly to zero-emission vehicles powered by fuel cells.

The government doesn’t see self-restraint as the answer.

“It’s not so easy to say to the Chinese, ‘You have to consume less or you’re going to kill the planet,’ ” said Christine Loh, director of the Hong Kong think tank Civic Exchange.

Huang Ying, a Shanghai sales manager who drives about 15,000 miles a year in his new Peugeot sedan, likes the proven technology of the gasoline-fired, internal combustion engine. He says it’s up to others to move to less-harmful fuels such as hydrogen or electric cars.

“The American people perhaps can afford that,” he said. “I’d rather be driving one of those big cars with a big engine like you have.”

Affording a car

Buying a car at prices that start around $9,000 for a domestic make is still a huge investment in a country where per capita income is not even a fourth of that. And most pay cash.

GM, which has found a global sweet spot in China selling cars between $14,000 and $100,000, estimates the threshold for a Chinese new car buyer is around $6,000 in annual income. That puts a car within reach of 40 percent of Chinese households.

With its partner Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp., General Motors Acceptance Corp. gained permission in 2004 to introduce auto financing to China. The typical loan is only for one year.

Still, there is an evident tension within the Chinese government between encouraging the car industry and curbing car pollution, fuel consumption and traffic congestion.

The government promotes an auto culture by subsidizing gasoline prices at about $3.40 a gallon, investing heavily in a highway system and ordering China’s 400 million bicycle owners to the curb, where they compete for sidewalk space.

In crowded Shanghai, however, the city charges new car owners roughly $7,300 for registration and license plates. In Beijing, where an average of more than 1,300 new cars join the city’s fleet of 3.3 million vehicles every day, luxury car plates can cost even more.

Cars have catalytic converters and fuel injection. There are no emissions inspection stations, but all new cars start out with pollution technology that meets air-quality standards that applied to the European Union in 2000. Standards in Beijing are tougher.

Issue of fuel

China’s fuel-economy standards require 35 miles per gallon for new cars, and buyers of cars with larger engines pay consumption taxes as high as 20 percent of the purchase price.

A National People’s Congress committee has advocated an end to gasoline subsidies and higher-still “gas guzzler” taxes.

China’s automakers are hungry for fuel-economy breakthroughs. GM makes a hybrid Buick LaCrosse in Shanghai and promises to bring its electric model the Volt to China as well. Some Chinese automakers are already tinkering with electric cars.

Fuel-economy technologies that allow China to leapfrog advancements in Europe and North America may be the best hope for cleaning China’s air and easing the pressure on world oil markets, says Kelly Sims Gallagher, author of China Shifts Gears.

“I’ve never met anybody in China who doesn’t want to have a car,” she said. “We have to find a way to make them cleaner and more efficient, and we have to try and provide good alternative transportation options so you can at least eliminate the convenience and mobility factors.”

Olympic efforts

To clean up Beijing’s pollution in time for the Olympics, the government ordered half the city’s cars off the streets every other day. (Plates ending in odd numbers are allowed only on odd-numbered days, and alternate with cars that have even-numbered plates.)

The Chinese capital’s wide boulevards are no longer jammed with vehicles, and real estate entrepreneur Dong Jie, who drives a 2007 BMW 320i sedan, hopes the government keeps the odd/even restrictions after the Olympics.

“Having all these cars definitely adds to air pollution, and the government needs to solve this problem,” he said while wiping down his sedan at a car wash. “And without these restrictions, Beijing’s roads cannot hold so many cars.”

A manager at the car wash, one of millions who gain economically from China’s love affair with automobiles, saw it differently. He hopes the restrictions end soon.

“On Saturdays, you could not see the end of the line of cars waiting for washing,” he said. “Now there’s just five or six.”

Ozone, Particle Pollution To Be Included In Monitoring

China Daily – 5 Aug 2008

China is likely to start monitoring ozone and particle pollution from next year to keep anti-pollution campaigns going strong after the Olympics, an environmental official said on Sunday.

Fan Yuansheng, of the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), said the two pollutants had caused great concern, and the MEP was making technical preparations to monitor them.

“We should be able to start regular monitoring of ozone and PM2.5 (particle matter) next year, which would lead to measures to deal with them,” Fan told a press conference.

He was speaking in response to reports that China’s environmental authorities had failed to include fine particles and ozone into their pollution measurements, resulting in an ignorance of the health risks caused by the pollutants.

“Fine particles” are tiny solid particles no larger than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. Health experts believe they are unhealthy to breathe, and have been associated with fatal illnesses and other serious health problems.

Colorless ozone is also believed to cause respiratory problems and affect lungs.

There have been worries that the air in Beijing, which will host the summer Olympic Games in three days, may be unhealthy for some athletes.

China has taken drastic measures to curb pollution, such as closing factories around Beijing and ordering half of 3.3 million cars in Beijing off the roads, to try to clear the skies during the Olympics.

“These measures have been effective so far,” said Fan, director of the MEP’s department of pollution control.

Fan refuted allegations that China’s air pollution standards were more lenient than World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.

Standards that China had been using to control four major air pollutants – sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and particles – followed the WHO’s “phase one” guideline issued in 2005, he said.

The WHO allows developing countries like China to begin from this guideline to eventually reach its stricter final goals, he said.

Fan said measures adopted to reduce pollution in Beijing for its hosting of the summer Olympics would stay in force after the event.

“Most of these measures are long-term ones and will remain in place after the Games. Not all the temporary measures will be retained after the Games, but they may provide models for our future work,” he said.

Many Beijing residents are worried air pollution could worsen after the Olympics, with factories reopened, construction resumed and traffic no longer restricted.

Fan argued the Olympics would leave environmental legacies in Beijing and China, which has spent billions of yuan to clean its environment.


Beijing Games Will Change China, IOC Chief Predicts

Olympic president sees better global view of mainland

Peter Simpson in Beijing – SCMP – Updated on Aug 05, 2008

The 2008 Beijing Games will change China, and the world’s understanding of the host country, the International Olympics Committee president predicted yesterday.

But as the smog returned with a vengeance over the capital, Jacques Rogge refused to say in which way – or by how much – China would be transformed over the next three weeks and thereafter.

“The proof is in the eating,” he said during an interview with the South China Morning Post. “We will make an assessment after the Games,” he said. “But I believe these Olympics will change the country, and will also change the perception of the world towards this country.”

Dr Rogge said the IOC and the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games had faced many problems, such as media restrictions, and the stubborn pollution. But such issues had “lent their own characteristics to the challenges the IOC has faced in ensuring the movement leaves lasting legacies”, he said.

He fell short of mentioning the two Games where the Olympic movement is credited with ushering in sweeping social transformations or influencing regime changes – Tokyo in 1964 and Seoul in 1988.

But he drew on his 40 years of Olympic experience to compare Beijing’s preparation hurdles with those of other host cities that faced challenges.

“I have been at many Games and I have had other issues [to deal with]. I was in 1976 Montreal with the [cold war] boycott,” said the former three-time Olympic sailor, who is overseeing his second Games since becoming IOC president in 2001.

“I was in 1980 Moscow, also with [the same] boycott, and I was also in 1972 Munich when there was the killing of 11 Israeli colleagues.

“All Olympics have their problems. 2004 Athens had its problems with the venues being finished at the very last minute. But it was still a marvellous Games. Organising the event is never easy, but we will manage all the problems here.”

A green legacy would be one triumph for the Chinese, who daily battle environmental degradation and resulting health concerns.

As Dr Rogge made his bold prediction, the capital’s notorious smog once more enveloped the Olympic centrepiece “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium, after a spate of clear days.

The Post asked Dr Rogge to look out the window and assess whether the thick, ugly shroud posed a problem to athletes’ health.

“We have 27 meteorological stations monitoring the atmosphere 24 hours a day,” he said. “Our medical commission has indicated that there is no health problem for every event lasting under an hour and taking place at indoor arenas.”

He repeated the plan to postpone or move those events lasting more than an hour – such as the marquee marathon race and road cycling. But Dr Rogge said he was convinced the 10,000-plus sports stars would compete in safety.

With international monitors claiming the pollution level was well above the WHO’s interim safety limit of 150 yesterday, the Beijing Environmental Protection Department put the smog danger level at a “moderate” 83.

Beijing Still Hazy With Three Days To Go

Reuters in Beijing – Updated on Aug 05, 2008

The haze blanketing Beijing lifted slightly on Tuesday although the sun was obscured by grey skies three days before the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.

Organisers want clean and crisp skies for the Games and have closed factories and pulled half the capital’s 3.3 million cars off the roads to achieve their ambition.

They are holding in reserve further plans to reduce the number of cars on the roads and shut more factories, if projections show unacceptable conditions in coming days.

The pollution index for Tuesday was between 90 and 110, moderating from 95 to 115 overnight. China regards an index level of less than 100 to be a “blue sky day”.

Many athletes pouring into Beijing ahead of the Games appeared to be more struck by the heat than the pollution.

“The humidity’s quite fun, it’s like rowing through a steam room,” said British rower Olivia Whitlam.

Renata Ribeiro, a Brazilian beach volleyball player from Rio de Janeiro, thought fears about pollution were overstated.

“We’d been told it was absolutely terrible so we were prepared for much worse. It’s actually not that heavy today. We’re breathing fine,” she said.

However, for athletes of endurance events the smog could pose a major problem and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said it might reschedule events if the pollution was too bad.

The local Games organisers, Bocog, have pledged to finish the Games on August 24 so most observers believe the IOC would switch the men’s marathon, due to take place on the final day, to another Chinese city if the air quality was deemed too poor.

The IOC has not said what it regards as an acceptable pollution level for the marathon.

Beijing would be cloudy and hot through Thursday, the China Meteorological Administration said.

A sparkling weekend in Beijing had brightened hopes that the anti-pollution measures were working but Monday was muggy and smoggy.