Kyle Johnson
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Auto Sales in China Top 20 Million as Pollution Problem Grows

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Auto Sales in China Reach Unprecedented Levels

With the market for foreign automobiles more competitive than ever, and provided the country’s population of 1.36 billion people, it can’t come as too great a surprise that 2013 was an excellent year for auto sales in China.  However, this year’s total sales were probably enough to defy even the loftiest of expectations: Bloomberg reports that China became the first country in which 20 million or more vehicles were sold in a single year.

Toyota Motor Corporation, General Motors Co., and Volkswagen AG all enjoyed record auto sales in China throughout 2013.  Total deliveries rose by 14 percent to reach a staggering 21.98 million units in 2013, and it is being predicted that the number of units sold in the country could eclipse 24 million in 2014.  17.93 million of all vehicles sold were passenger vehicles, and the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers is surmising that that could very well increase by 9 to 11 percent this year.

Auto Sales in China

The Ford Mondeo, one of the Detroit automaker’s latest offerings in China, sold 35,747 units in 2013.

GM’s sales climbed 11 percent, but its ninth-straight year as most popular foreign automaker in China may be jeopardized by the increasing popularity of Volkswagen, who will report its figures later in the month.  GM moved 3.16 million vehicles in China during 2013; in contrast, Volkswagen’s totals had reached 2.96 million through November, meaning a big December would be enough to put them over the top and into first place.  Ford and Toyota were also significant beneficiaries of increased auto sales in China with 49 percent and 9.2 percent annual increases, respectively.

The High Cost of Success: China’s Hazardous Air

Of particular interest in the Bloomberg report, however, is the effect that all of these vehicles are having on China’s ecosystem.  China emits the most CO2 of any country in the world, and certain cities reside under smog levels that are nearly 40 times greater than World Health Organization’s recommended maximum.  A report released by the WHO back in October deemed the air we breathe “the most widespread environmental carcinogen;” it was found that, among other things, air pollution has led to lung cancer and an increased risk of bladder cancer.  Another Bloomberg piece released after the WHO’s findings were revealed points out that cancer is the leading killer in Beijing, whose smog-choked air became a considerable cause for concern in the walk up to the 2008 Olympic games.  At a 2008 press conference, Chinese Ministry of Health official Qi Xiaoqiu noted that the lung cancer death rate in China had risen 465 percent in the thirty years since the beginning of China’s industrial revitalization and rise to economic dominance.

Auto Sales in China Impact Air Quality

Smog hangs over the Beijing skyline / Photo: Kevin Dooley

Chinese cities Tianjin, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Guiyang have all imposed vehicle quota restrictions.  China’s State Council released a national plan this past September that calls for a 15 to 25 percent decrease of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) by 2017.  This morning, the Wall Street Journal reports that China’s oil refineries will increase gasoline output as the country moves away from diesel-powered machinery in an effort to reduce potentially deadly emissions levels.

Is it too little, too late?  Does the potential for increased auto sales in China during 2014 only mean more problems for the country and its people?  It’s difficult to tell whether this problem can ever truly be fixed, but one thing is for certain: a Herculean effort will certainly be required from China’s lawmakers, the world community at large, and the automakers that continue to reap the rewards of China’s ever-growing economy.

  • Kyle JohnsonEditor

    Kyle S. Johnson lives in Cincinnati, a city known by many as "the Cincinnati of Southwest Ohio." He enjoys professional wrestling, Halloween, and also other things. He has been writing for a while, and he plans to continue to write well into the future. See more articles by Kyle.