Chery QQ.jpgLike car owners the world over, most Chinese consumers prefer to put their green principles to one side when it comes to purchasing a new car.

Large expensive vehicles are preferred to smaller low-emission models, and the results show up in the sales figures.

Sales of low-emission cars declined almost 12% in first half of the year, in stark contrast to the overall market, which advanced 30 percent , according to China's association of carmakers.

Xinhua quotes the head of one Beijing car dealer who who says no low-emission car model was among his top 20 best sellers.

A survey by Sinotrust Marketing Research & Consulting targeting 15,000 potential consumers, shows no more than 20% would consider low-emission cars as their first choice.

The survey quotes one consumer who says she intended to buy a low-emission car but found they performed poorly in terms of operation, comfort, and safety after a test drive compared with larger cars.

By western standards, some of China's low-emission cars, including the Chery QQ (pictured) and Changan Auto, are not particularly green, as have yet to reach the Euro III emission standard.

Sinotrust says many manufacturers are reluctant to invest in low-emission R&D as they could only make a few hundred yuan in profits. Lang Xuehong, head of automotive research at Sinotrust, says:

If any domestically-made low-emission car could match the performance of the Volkswagen Beetle or BMW Mini, it would be well received. It needs the joint efforts of the automobile manufacturers and consumers to expand the low-emission car market in addition to the government's promotion.”

The current price of Chinese low-emission cars range from 30,000 yuan to 40,000 yuan, while an imported Beatle or Mini Cooper costs nearly ten times as much.

China's car industry urgently needs to improve the performance — and perception — of low-emission vehicles. China's could soon become the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases — some argue that it already is — and so it needs to encourage buyers to make the green choice. But I suspect more drastic measures are going to needed to clean up China's fast-growing car fleet.

How about imposing steep tolls on the biggest, most polluting cars? That's what Ken Livingstone, mayor of London, is proposing for Europe's biggest city. London already has a highly successful “congestion charge” scheme that requires all vehicles that want to enter the congested centre of London to pay £8 a day.

Livingstone proposes to triple that charge in the case of vehicles that make the biggest contribution to global warning and he has in his sights big, heavy 4×4 vehicles, which are known as “Chelsea tractors” in the UK because of their popularity among well-heeled residents of Chelsea and other exclusive areas of London.

Predictably, the proposal has attracted squeals of protest from carmakers even though the great majority of drivers in the congestion zone would be unaffected and drivers of the least polluting vehicles — those that meet the Euro 4 regulations — would get a 100% discount.

More on Livingstone's plan in this Birmingham Post story.

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