The nice people at Marketplace, who provided the above photo, have a fun website where you can put Chinese smog on your favorite city. Thankfully, most American cities haven’t had a smog problem in the 21st century. Beijing, on the other hand, is experiencing the proverbial terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
Though Siemens won’t be putting their name upon the body of BAIC C70G for a DTM entry anytime soon, the Chinese automaker and German industrial giant will come together for an green vehicle-related joint venture in Beijing.
Though the municipal government in Beijing has set aside 20,000 license plates for electric vehicles in an attempt to offset their ongoing air quality woes, very few residents are interested, even if it means waiting a long time to own a gasoline-powered car.
I am coming back to China after having been away for months. My trusted sidekick of many years, a lady surnamed Zhang, seeks my advice. “Bertel, we have car problems.” Uh-oh, I think, and I mentally do a review of my accounts. This smells expensive. As it turns out, the problem is bigger than what money can solve.
Ms. Zhang explains that her mother won the lottery. The Beijing license plate lottery.
This Beijing policeman has a hard look at this BMW X1. Not because it’s extremely dusty. A few days parked outside in Beijing, and any car looks like that. No, this car has no license plates. The plateless car has been gathering dust for a while on Beijing’s streets.
With a population approaching that of Australia and car sales of 700,000 new cars, or 890,000 new cars (depending on which issue of China Daily you rely more), Beijing used to be one of the most important car markets in the world’s largest car markets, China. As amply documented by TTAC, the car market in Beijing collapsed completely after city fathers ruled that new registrations have to try their luck in a license plate lottery first.
China’ top economic planners at the National Development and Reform Commission NDRC see their economic plans threatened, and are “appealing” to Beijing to change its policy.
Beijingers who are lucky enough to win the license plate lottery may be punished severely – if they don’t buy a car. In the beginning of the year, China’s capital instated a rule by which new car owners must enter a lottery for a license plate. Only 17,600 plates are available per month. In the latest draw, some 530,000 people did compete for the 17,600 plates. Only one out of 30 applicants could win. And what are the lucky winners doing? Most of them do nothing. In April, only 3,700 exercised their hard-won right and bought a car. At least that’s up from 2,000 in January. Now, the city is thinking about meting out harsh punishment.
We have documented extensively how Beijing’s license plate lottery mucked-up the car market of China’s capital. Now, Beijingers found a creative way to get their sought-after license play without bothering Lady Luck: They go to court.
Call it synchronicity, ESP, or plain dumb luck. Yesterday, only half in jest, I called upon the city of Beijing to issue its sought-after license plates to buyers of EVs and hybrids. Little did I know that the day before, Beijing had decided to do just that. Well, no quite. No hybrids.
Beijing’s media, from Beijing Youth Daily to the China Securities Journal, all report that buyers of pure plug-ins, and pure plug-ins only, will enjoy privileges the regular Beijinger can only dream of: EV buyers will not have to win the lottery to drive a car, they can drive on any day of the week, and they pay no tax. Doesn’t sound exciting to you? It could very well turn Beijing into EV city. Here is why:
Beijing is in a state of confusion after China’s capital drastically slashed the number of license plates available. You literally have to win the lottery to get a plate. Most winners keep the prized (but non-transferable) possession at home. Writes the party organ People’s Daily: “Only about 11 percent of those who won rights to car licenses plates through the new lottery system bought cars in Beijing in January, the first month after restrictions were implemented, according to Chi Yifeng, general manager of Beijing Yayuncun Automobile Transaction Market, the biggest car retail market in China. “
Beijing’s draconian license plate limits have a stimulating effect on the creativity of Beijingers. To skirt the new rules, complex schemes are being devised. Beijing’s courts are turned into accessories of the fraud. According to China Daily, the scheme goes like this:
Want to belong to a really exclusive club? Own a car in Beijing. Don’t have one yet? Sorry, try your luck in the license plate lottery. Out-of–towner? Don’t even think of entering downtown during rush-hour. “Vehicles that are not registered in Beijing are prohibited from entering the urban area inside the Fifth Ring Road during the two daily rush hours,” reports China Daily. Even during off-peak hours, Beijing’s capital is full of surprises for outsiders.
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