China’s rapid commercial growth has led to almost inconceivable air pollution in its major cities. In the last month alone, high levels of pollution have forced China to all but shut down the northeastern city of Harbin, a major city with a population of nearly 11 million people. In addition to threatening the country’s deadliest polluters with heavy fines and, hilariously, the death penalty, Beijing is taking another step to clean its air: by 2017, a full 40% of new vehicle number plates will be set aside for “new energy” vehicles, effectively acting as a 40% hybrid/electric mandate.
In addition to the “clean car mandate” that I just invented, Beijing will take the somewhat drastic step of cutting the number of new plates it will issue. Beijing will issue only 150,000 new license plates, down from 240,000 each year now. As in the US, all cars must carry plates before they can be driven on public roads.
According to Reuters, new number plate restrictions are already in place in four Chinese cities – Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Guiyang – with plans to restrict number plate sales in eight more cities within the next year. The policy trend has already led carmakers like GM and VW to divert its marketing and sales resources to China’s smaller cities. As long as they can still see the sky, anyway.