7/20/09 - chinese cars

In today's excerpt - Chinese cars:

In 2004, China shook automakers worldwide with the incredible speed and strictness of the auto fuel efficiency standards it enacted, which are 5 to 10 percent stricter than U.S. standards and among the toughest in the world.

"The task of writing the rules fell to the Ministry of Standards. ... Yin Minhan, director of the Department of Industry and Transportation, ... is the epitome of bright efficiency: Since 2000 he's worked on energy standards for a fast-forward social history of Chinese consumerism: first electric motors, then refrigerators, air conditioners, and now cars.

"Yin's group met with consultants from China as well as the Energy Foundation, a U.S.-funded NGO, and then traveled to Japan, the United States, and Europe to gather opinions on efficiency regimes. They decided to create a scheme that rewarded smaller cars and imposed stricter fuel efficiency standards on larger ones. The standards go into effect in two stages. In the first stage, only one U.S.-made SUV passes. The second stage is harder still. 'We learned our lessons from the U.S.,' says Wang Junwei, one of the five hundred or so people involved in auto standards at the ministry. 'We are going to clamp down on SUVs early!'

"But there was a bigger strategy behind the rules than merely saving fuel and preventing pollution. The ultimate intent of the regulations was to make Chinese-built cars more exportable to high-end markets, such as Europe. Designed to pressure joint ventures like GM and Volkswagen to send their newest technology to China, the standards are part of the slow revolution that could make China the new Detroit.

"When the Chinese bureaucrats in charge of the standards listened to Detroit auto executives denigrate fuel economy standards, they heard an opportunity. The team perceived Detroit's reluctance as a strategic weakness and a clear way for China's industry to become more competitive. 'China doesn't subscribe to the idea that what's good for GM is good for the country,' an American consultant who worked with the government team says with a laugh. ...

"[Outside of Shanghai] sits six square miles named Shanghai International Auto City, recently carved from the rice fields of a town called Jiading. Three years ago Shanghai decided it wanted to build a place for its auto industry to become the largest in the world. Out went Jiading's farmers and little factories. In went Tongji University's College of Automotive Studies, spaces for joint-venture auto assembly plants, parts suppliers testing facilities a car museum a wind tunnel a golf course and a $320 million state-of-the-art Formula One track—in the shape of the first character of Shanghai's name which means roughly 'upward.' "


Lisa Margonelli


Oil on the Brain: Petroluem's Long, Strange Trip To Your Tank


Nan A. Talese/Doubleday


Copyright 2007 by Lisa Margonelli


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