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Energy and Environmental Impacts of Rural Vehicles in China


Research Report

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Suggested Citation:
Sperling, Daniel and Zhenhong Lin (2004) Energy and Environmental Impacts of Rural Vehicles in China. Urbanization, Energy, and Air Pollution in China: The Challenges Ahead -- Proceedings of a Symposium

More than 3 million Chinese rural vehicles (CRVs) were produced in 2002, three times the number of conventional passenger cars. These small, simple, indigenous vehicles are widely used in small cities and rural areas but are  virtually unknown outside China. CRVs provide huge benefits in terms of mobility and economic development, but they are also highly energy inefficient and polluting. CRVs now consume about one-fourth of the diesel fuel in China. Increasing government regulation (mostly for emissions and safety) is having profound effects on the industry, with uncertain implications for the sale and globalization of rural vehicle technology. In 1994, the Chinese government designated the automotive industry a “pillar” of economic development. In the Tenth Five-Year Plan (2000–2005), the government established a goal of widespread car ownership, and since then, intense efforts have been made to engage the international automotive industry (Gallagher, 2003; NRC et al., 2003). As a result, passenger car output has been increasing rapidly, from 0.6 million in 2000 to 1.06 million in 2002 (China National Bureau of Statistics, 2004). In striking contrast, and virtually ignored, is the even larger number of small three-wheel (3-w) and four-wheel (4-w) vehicles manufactured by domestic Chinese companies for use in small cities and rural areas. With virtually no governmental financial support, the production of these CRVs first exceeded 3 million per year in 1999 and reached an estimated 20 to 22 million in 2001 (China Automotive Technology and Research Center, 2000; Chinese Government Website, 2003a). The implications of these vehicles are huge—in terms of safety, energy use, air pollution, noise pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and rural development. The English language literature provides very little information about CRVs (indeed, there is no accepted English name for them), and even in Chinese, information is sparse.