China’s Push for Electric Vehicles

The Chinese government has formulated a plan to make their nation one of the leading producers of hybrid and electric vehicles by 2012.  It is rapidly increasing the amount of research funding for electric car designs.  Consumers who buy alternative energy vehicles will receive tax credits, and taxi fleets and government agencies are offered subsidies as high as $8,800 for similar purchases.  In addition, the state electricity grid has been ordered to construct electric car-charging stations in major metropolitan areas.


Last year, China produced a combined total of 2,100 hybrid and electric cars and buses, but the government wants to raise that number to 500,000 by the end of 2011.  Analysts predict that by that time Japan and South Korea combined will be making 1.1 million such vehicles and the US will be manufacturing 267,000 of them.


Chinese leaders are pushing the development of non-gasoline vehicles for two main reasons.  The first is that China has major pollution problems; 16 of the top 20 most polluted cities in the world are located in that country, according to the World Bank.  The hope is that clean electric cars and buses will significantly reduce the amount of smog over urban areas.  It should be noted that the move towards alternative energy vehicles will only reduce greenhouse gas emissions in China by 19 percent because coal-powered electric plants are responsible for the vast majority of such emissions. 


A second reason behind the Chinese efforts to promote battery-powered forms of transportation is to reduce China’s dependence on foreign oil.  China imports much of its oil from unstable regions of the world such as the Middle East and Africa, and it is shipped across American-controlled sea lanes.  The embrace of alternative forms of energy clearly has a geostrategic purpose.


If the Chinese plan for electric vehicles is successful it could have many positive consequences for the rest of the world.  It will mitigate global warming and thereby benefit the environment.  It may lessen China’s desire to build a strong blue-water Navy that could challenge US naval dominance and in doing so prevent a military buildup that could spark an arms race and increase tensions in East Asia.  It might curb human rights abuses by ending, or at least significantly reducing, Chinese support for authoritarian regimes that export oil.  It should also benefit automobile consumers around the world by increasing competition among automakers, thereby reducing prices and fueling innovation.


Other nations should support China’s decision to move in this direction and adopt similar policies to promote the use of alternative energy in order to reap the many benefits that such a course of action offers.


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