Will China Take the Lead

Power Efficiency Guide

Ultimate Guide to Power Efficiency

Get Instant Access

As we've just indicated, China is clearly poised to contribute important innovations in the realm of vehicles, fuels, and mobility services. The vehicle world is dominated by global automakers who have corporate cultures and business models attuned to mass markets in the most affluent countries. They design vehicles to satisfy customers in the United States, Japan, and Europe. But Chinese consumers will accept less power, smaller size, and even shorter vehicle life in return for lower prices and greater energy efficiency. In this land of reduced consumer expectations, upstart Chinese companies can produce electric scooters, small hybrids, and electric cars at much lower cost. And as the suite of small electric vehicle products expands and sales increase, the market for batteries, electric motors, and other electric components will also grow. Motivated by pollution and oil concerns, China can develop low-cost clean vehicles for export, perhaps eventually including plug-in hybrids and fuel cell vehicles, replicating on a more massive scale what the Japanese and South Korean automotive companies did earlier with conventional cars. And it can also pioneer clean coal conversion processes and greatly expand innovative mobility services.

Will China actually play a leadership role in transforming vehicles, fuels, and mobility? We think so, for a variety of reasons. For one, some in China are beginning to recognize the Faustian bargain of automotive industry success. They gain jobs but suffer a raft of environmental, social, and even economic problems. China's strong national and local governments, with the ability to influence autos and fuels, could pave the way for precedent-setting fiscal and regulatory policies. The Chinese government is capable of strong and effective intervention, as demonstrated by its one-child policy. Imagine a similar policy applied to car ownership, or better yet, imagine household carbon budgets where individuals are held accountable for their carbon footprint. China's growing auto industry knows that it must create a socially acceptable product if it's to continue expanding. It will become increasingly accepting of environmental mandates and will gradually strengthen its capability to pursue more innovative technology.

And then there are the Chinese people themselves. Despite sometimes harsh limits on personal freedom, they're becoming more outspoken in demanding a cleaner and healthier environment. Environmental awareness, consumer confidence, and the willingness of citizens to exert pressure are on the rise; witness the 50 percent increase in the number of public protests between 2004 and 2005.48 All of this could add up to positive results as consumers and governments pressure auto and oil companies that seek to thrive in one of the world's fastest-growing nations.

How the Rest of the World Can Help China Help Us All

China is in transition. Its policies and economic structures are being remade before the world's eyes. Occasional hiccups will naturally interrupt China's headlong political, economic, social, and demographic progress. Help must be forthcoming from the rest of the world.

More relevant to this book, China must be persuaded with carrots and possibly urged with sticks to elevate climate and energy policy to the level of a major national concern. China's first priority is maintaining economic growth and managing political and social tensions. While energy is becoming increasingly important, it's still not a top priority, and climate policy is far down the list.49 Given these realities, it's more incumbent than ever on the rest of the world to actively engage China in addressing energy, transportation, and climate challenges.

While the problems are huge, so are the opportunities. With China's massive size and increasing entrepreneurialism, the opportunities for creating new transportation models and new technologies are abundant. It's in the interest of businesses, inside and outside of China, to target innovative technologies and policies that will revolutionize transportation and energy. The potential for engaged business partnerships and two-way policy learning is everywhere.

There's no guarantee, of course. Short-term economic pressures often oppose environmental gains. Special interests advocate their own agendas over the public interest. Consumers strive for bigger vehicles and more mobility. As industrial lobbies gain strength, they fight hard to water down environmental and energy efficiency laws. The growing power and influence of car and oil companies push China toward more car-centric investments. Only the most farsighted and sophisticated leaders can devise strategies to effectively advance both the economy and the environment.

The question is how fast, how beneficially, and how creatively China might lead, or be prompted to lead. With China rapidly transforming from a state-directed economy to a market economy, changes will be uneven and often chaotic. Obstacles and possible pitfalls include intellectual piracy, authoritarian intervention, social unrest, weak schools and universities, and pent-up economic desires that swamp the larger social good. Potholes and wrong turns are everywhere.

This is where the rest of the world must step up. The wealthiest, developed nations owe it to themselves to be involved as more than mere observers. It's in their self-interest to enthusiastically and generously help China pursue a more benign transport-energy path. This isn't charity. While China would benefit from aid and partnerships, so would the rest of the world. There are other awakening giants in our midst. India, Indonesia, Russia, and Brazil are all massive countries at various stages of motorization. China could be a model to these other countries.

The United States, Europe, Japan, and other affluent countries can grease the skids for China and other rapidly motorizing nations to forge and implement sustainable transportation strategies and technologies. They can invest in and support innovative approaches that recognize and align with local needs and priorities. They can facilitate the transfer of Chinese innovations throughout the world and pass promising innovations back to China. Here we provide suggestions along both lines.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Hybrid Cars The Whole Truth Revealed

Hybrid Cars The Whole Truth Revealed

Hybrid Cars! Man! Is that a HOT topic right now! There are some good reasons why hybrids are so hot. If you’ve pulled your present car or SUV or truck up next to a gas pumpand inserted the nozzle, you know exactly what I mean! I written this book to give you some basic information on some things<br />you may have been wondering about.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment