In mid-1999 representatives of the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE) visited the U.S. National Research Council (NRC) to explore the prospects for collaboration between the two institutions on a study of the future of the personal car in China. The study was to suggest strategies for developing a Chinese national car, as described in China’s five-year plan for the automotive industry, and the role of such a car in the national transportation system. It would take into account China’s social development, opportunities for cooperation between government and industry, and the impact of a large increase in the number of private cars on sustainable development. The study also was to examine the various options that might be available to mitigate problems such as increased congestion, pollution, and energy consumption. In 2001 the study committee, composed of an equal number of Chinese and American experts, began work.
Whether from domestic or overseas sources, a rapid increase in the number of cars in China will produce both benefits and liabilities. In the short term, a more mobile population will have greater choices in housing, employment, shopping, and leisure. But the experience of other countries suggests that in urban areas, in the absence of government intervention, poorer air quality, more auto accidents, and increased congestion will negatively affect all urban residents. In the longer term, the developed areas of cities may expand as populations and their employers move outward from the city center, away from congestion and pollution. This expansion would impose some hardships on those without automobiles and additional costs on the government for roads, services, and public transport. In rural areas, the effects will be more benign, bringing new opportunities for employment and other economic benefits with little added congestion or pollution. Local governments will have increased responsibilities for traffic management, regulation, and enforcement. The average cost of new cars will increase as national performance standards on emissions, efficiency, fuel quality, and safety are applied. As energy consumption almost certainly rises, China will become more dependent on imported petroleum.
Unfortunately, some of the important issues identified could not be explored in detail within the present study. For example, what effect will motorization have on inequities among various segments of the population? What will be the cost of and method of financing for the new infrastructure that will accompany increased motorization in China? To what extent will the air pollution from the emissions that will accompany the