By on March 24, 2009

The Chinese government wanted to create demand for an extra million vehicles per year with their “cars to the countryside” program. It goes like this: farmers who replace their three-wheeled vehicles for light commercial vehicles receive a maximum subsidy of 5,000 yuan ($731).  Not enough to spur consumption? “For cost-sensitive farmers, a 10-percent subsidy is enough and would be effective to boost demand,” said Tan Jijia, an auto analyst at Pacific Securities Co. He was wrong. There is another problem . . .

Farmers in China rarely have driver’s licenses. Of the approximately 1.5 bn people living in China, only slightly more than 100 million are licensed to drive a car. Other than in the big cities, which clog daily with traffic, cars can still be an oddity in some rural towns. Even in larger cities more inland the preferred type of a taxi is the backseat of a motorcycle. That became apparent after the “cars to the countryside” wasn’t the roaring success it was hoped.

The lack of licenses won’t deter the Chinese; the Ministry of Public Security will dispatch policemen to the countryside to give farmers easier access to driving license examinations, Gasgoo writes. Even mobile offices for vehicle registration will be set up in rural parts of China. Normally a driving school teaches driving, and police stations issue the permits.

Unfortunately, there are no driving schools and very few police stations in the Chinese countryside. Between 55 and 80 percent—depending on whom you ask and who does the counting—of China’s population lives in rural areas. Even tier-3 cities often lack an essential element to car ownership: car dealers.

This should serve as another indicator that China, for the months of January and February the world’s largest auto market, is largely untapped.

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7 Comments on “No License? Chinese Police: “We’ll Teach Ya”...”

  • avatar

    That’s nice.

  • avatar

    All I can think of is how scary it must be to teach people that have not only never driven, but aren’t even familiar with cars. At least when teenagers here learn to drive, they’ve been exposed to cars their entire life. Many play racing video games, are allowed to drive in parking lots, and get other types of instruction. I can’t imagine trying to teach someone who’s got little or no knowledge of cars.

  • avatar

    Not so many years ago, the company for which I worked was visited by a group of engineers from China for a business transaction. Several of us in middle management took turns escorting the visitors to lunch. When it was my turn, I loaded them into my then new Taurus and drove away. Trying to strike up a conversation, I asked about the kind of cars they liked. It turned out that for these five gentlemen, none younger than about 40 and all with advanced technical degrees, this was the first time they had been in a passenger car. Heretofore all their travel had been either buses, bicycles, trains, or planes.

  • avatar

    The family in the picture could use a couple Tata Nanos.

  • avatar
    Edward Niedermeyer

    Those three-wheelers made up the vast majority of rural traffic when we were puttering around the Beijing countryside, and I think I can understand why they are trying to phase them out. They have easily the crudest sounding engines I have ever heard. Time between combustion cycles seemed measurable in seconds, and each percussive “bang” was accompanied by a cloud of sooty exhaust. Gross.

  • avatar

    Time between combustion cycles seemed measurable in seconds, and each percussive “bang” was accompanied by a cloud of sooty exhaust. Gross.

    I thought thats what travel writers called “local colour”

  • avatar

    “…have not only never driven…”

    Hmmm… the way I read it, they drive all the time. They just have never been licensed to do so. Who knows, they might be pretty skilled at handling those things.

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