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China plans 2035 gas car ban that doesn’t actually ban gas cars

China plans to require that all new cars sold after 2035 be eco-friendly “new energy vehicles” according to Nikkei Asia. The plans were announced in a future road map for new energy vehicles and will be regulated under China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

The specifics of the plan state that as of 2035, 50% of new cars sold in the country will be either electric, plug-in hybrid, or fuel cell vehicles, and 50% of new cars will be conventional hybrids, which still run entirely on gasoline.

Currently, “new energy vehicles” — a category which includes plug-in hybrids and fuel cell vehicles, but most of which are battery electric vehicles — make up 5% of China’s new car market. This is a higher percentage of new car sales than all but seven countries, as of 2019. But it’s a far shot from 50%, which is the percentage China wants to reach by 2035. China’s road map targets a steady increase of that percentage from now until 2035.

The other 50% of new vehicles sold will still be conventional (non-plug-in) hybrids. China plans to gradually eliminate non-hybrid gas-powered vehicles in the next 15 years, targeting 75% of gasoline cars to be hybrids by 2030, and 100% of them by 2035. China also plans to stop manufacturing non-hybrid gas-powered vehicles by 2035, which could help force other countries to move away from gasoline.

It does need to be noted, though, that conventional hybrids do gain 100% of their energy from burning gasoline. There is no other external energy source powering them. Unlike plug-in vehicles, they cannot be made cleaner by a shift to cleaner grid electricity, as they cannot be charged through external means.

They do make more efficient use of the gasoline they burn by reducing one of the main ways that cars lose energy — through braking — but they will still burn gasoline for the entirety of their operational lifetime, which could last 10 or 20 years. If China is still producing new gas-burning hybrids in 2040 or 2050, this makes their 2060 net-zero carbon target that much more difficult.

China’s road map comes hot on the heels of California’s announcement last month that it will ban new gas car sales past 2035. We saw similar bans recently proposed (but not yet passed) in both New York and New Jersey.

But despite the outsized economic impact of those states (and high level of car ownership in California), China’s announcement is much, much bigger. As the most populous country in the world that is also rapidly developing, China is already the world’s largest auto market and only stands to grow in the future. Any action they take will be very consequential in terms of the global impact on climate change.

Electrek’s Take

As with California’s 2035 gas car ban, we need to ask: Why not sooner? And more so: Why not include all cars, instead of only half of them?

China, for all its political ills that are outside the purview of this article, does have an advantage: They move quickly when they put their mind to something. Directives from higher-ups can be put into effect more quickly in China than in other countries, and this is one reason why the country has attracted Western investment and is growing so rapidly.

If China is famous for swift movement, why this weak commitment to EVs? China is fast, but as a country that stands to benefit from a global shift to EVs (if they manage to position their manufacturing base properly, and beat Western manufacturers and suppliers to the punch), they’ve announced a particularly feckless gas car phaseout, only affecting half of new cars by 2035.

The plus side is, just as we argued would be the case in California, it’s likely that the market, or other levels of government, will speak and make this directive somewhat irrelevant. As the entire economy shifts more toward electric cars, there will be less and less reason to buy a gas car — fewer gas stations, lower resale values, manufacturers going out of business or transitioning their lines to electric, etc.

In China, specifically, city governments are already working to minimize gas car sales. In Shanghai, for example, license plates are prohibitively expensive ($10,000+) for gas vehicles, while EV license plates do not need to pay this fee.

A shift to EVs is crucial for Chinese cities, which have heavily polluted air, and one of the best ways to clean up any city’s air is to get rid of roaming internal combustion engines spewing pollution through everyone’s apartment windows.

It seems likely that we have not heard the last of China in this respect, and that this commitment will be hopefully — and even likely — brought forward or made stronger over time. Because as of today, it’s pretty weak.

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Avatar for Jameson Dow Jameson Dow

Jameson has been driving electric vehicles since 2009, and has been writing about them and about clean energy for since 2016.

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