Beijing Drowns In Cars

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

China’s capital Beijing officially has 17m people. Unofficially, it’s guesstimated to be closer to 20m. By the beginning of next year, Beijing will be host to more than 4m automobiles, China Daily reports. Back in 1997, Beijing barely had 1m cars. Now, one in 4 Beijingers has a car.

Every day, more than 1000 cars are being registered in Beijing. After the October holidays, 10,000 needed to be registered and caused a giant traffic jam around the Beijing version of the DMV.


Come next year, Beijing’s car park (and during rush hour, that’s what it usually is) will have grown by 1 million in only two-and-a-half years. It took cities like Tokyo 12 years to grow a million cars. Katie Melua’s “Nine million bicycles in Beijing” is definitely a myth. Beijing’s motorists on the other hand will readily confirm that between 8 and 10 in the morning and 4 and 6 in the afternoon, all of Beijing’s cars take to the streets.

400,000 cars in total will be newly registered this year. By 2015, 5.5m cars will be on Beijing’s roads. But only if the projections of Liu Xiaoming, director of the Beijing municipal committee of communications are correct. He thinks, the numbers will drop to 300,000 new registrations in the coming years. He’s not saying how the growth might be capped. In Shanghai for instance, there is only a set number of new license plates available (between 5000 and 6000 a month) and they are auctioned off. A plate costs more than a small car: In January, the average price for a license plate was $4,388 per plate – and that was considered a recession-time bargain.

Beijing so far did not resort to such harsh measures. Jia Yuanhua, a transportation professor at Beijing Jiaotong University thinks the government should control the number of cars, but it won’t:

“The government would not restrict the purchase of cars because they need to support the growth of the industry and increase GDP during the financial crisis,” Jia Yuanhua said.

There is yet another reason: Most large Chinese car companies, and the Chinese side of most joint ventures, are state owned. The city of Beijing has its own car company, BAIC, joint venture partner of Daimler and Hyundai. You won’t shoot yourself in the foot by limiting your market, don’tcha? The Shanghai government owns a big chunk of a much larger car company, SAIC, joint venture partner of GM and Volkswagen, and that didn’t keep them from administering expensive birth control to their car community. Ah, the inscrutable East.

Be it as it may, Beijing’s residents think something might be afoot. Which prompts them to buy even more cars as long as they can. Ever since Beijing enacted a byzantine rule that the cars must stay at home on one day of the week, depending on the last digit of the license plate, second car ownership swelled.

Bertel Schmitt
Bertel Schmitt

Bertel Schmitt comes back to journalism after taking a 35 year break in advertising and marketing. He ran and owned advertising agencies in Duesseldorf, Germany, and New York City. Volkswagen A.G. was Bertel's most important corporate account. Schmitt's advertising and marketing career touched many corners of the industry with a special focus on automotive products and services. Since 2004, he lives in Japan and China with his wife <a href="http://www.tomokoandbertel.com"> Tomoko </a>. Bertel Schmitt is a founding board member of the <a href="http://www.offshoresuperseries.com"> Offshore Super Series </a>, an American offshore powerboat racing organization. He is co-owner of the racing team Typhoon.

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  • Endlessfeederrd Endlessfeederrd on Oct 22, 2009

    What in the crap is with the right-angle onramps in that pic? It looks like something out of Sim City.

  • R H R H on Oct 23, 2009

    Traffic is not too bad in major areas IF you (can) shift your schedule. My 34 mile (27 highway, 7 mile city) commute to Chicago from near the Wi line is about 40 min if I leave the house at 5-5:15am. after 5:15am there is progressively more traffic. The way home is a bit worse...typically entering city streets at 3pm, I am home by 3:50-4:30. (and that is during 30+ miles of construction on my route home...I expect once they finish adding a lane, it will be better) Or I could pay 2x-3x as much for a smaller house, no garage, higher taxes, and everything else that comes with corrupt Chicago. I prefer to try to enjoy my commute (at least the morning part) since I just like to drive anyhow... The real downside is social life. Once you normally wake up at 4am and are in bed by 8:30am-9pm, alot of "after work" and "weekend" activities with people far away are not doable. For example, I have friends who live in Joliet (71 miles away) and I _have_ to be leaving their house at 7pm or so to be home before I consider myself too tired to drive....

  • Lou_BC "respondents between 18 and 80 years old" Basically anyone deemed an adult who might be allowed to drive.
  • Lou_BC They will do fine if they come up with some cool sedans ;)
  • Mister They've got their work cut out for them. I live in a large metropolitan city of 1.2+ million people, the is a single Mitsubishi dealer. It's really more like a used-car dealer that sells Mitsubishi on the side. With the remarkably cheesy name of "Johnny Legends".
  • Kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh WHAT !?
  • Jeff Matt--I think this is a good move for Mitsubishi to expand their presence with satellite dealers. I had a 85 MItsubishi Mighty Max and my sister had a 83 MItsubishi Starion. MItsubishi needs to add a compact pickup to compete with the Maverick and the Santa Cruz but offer it for less. A smaller more affordable truck will sell. I believe MItsubishi should still offer an inexpensive subcompact like the Mirage it will sell in a slowing car market with high msrps. Yes I know the Mirage is probably going to be canceled but I believe in these times it is a mistake and they should reconsider cancelling the Mirage. Toyota is having problems selling the new redesigned Tacomas and Tundras with the turbo 4s and 6s. Most Tacomas have MSRPs of well over 40k. There is room for MItsubishi to grow their market share with more affordable vehicles. I am not saying Mitsubishi is going to overtake Toyota, Honda, or Nissan but they should take advantage of the more affordable market segment that these companies for the most part have abandoned. MItsubishi doesn't have to be the biggest just increase sales and become more profitable.
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