A Chinese City Moves to Limit New Cars

GUANGZHOU, China — It is as startling as if Detroit or Los Angeles restricted car ownership.

The municipal government of Guangzhou, a sprawling metropolis that is one of China’s biggest auto manufacturing centers, introduced license plate auctions and lotteries last week that will roughly halve the number of new cars on the streets.

The crackdown by China’s third-largest city is the most restrictive in a series of moves by big Chinese cities that are putting quality-of-life issues ahead of short-term economic growth, something the central government has struggled to do on a national scale.

The measures have the potential to help clean up China’s notoriously dirty air and water, reduce long-term health care costs and improve the long-term quality of Chinese growth. But they are also imposing short-term costs, economists say, at a time when policy makers in Beijing and around the world are already concerned about a sharp economic slowdown in China.

“Of course from the government’s point of view, we give up some growth, but to achieve better health for all citizens, it is definitely worth it,” said Chen Haotian, the vice director of Guangzhou’s top planning agency.

Nanjing and Hangzhou in east-central China are moving to require cleaner gas and diesel. Cities near the coast, from Dongguan and Shenzhen in southeastern China to Wuxi and Suzhou in the middle and Beijing in the north, are pushing out polluting factories. And Xi’an and Urumqi in northwestern China are banning and scrapping cars built before 2005, when automotive emissions rules were less stringent.

“There’s a recognition finally that growth at all costs is not sustainable,” said Ben Simpfendorfer, the managing director of Silk Road Associates, a Hong Kong consulting firm.

Facing public pressure to address traffic jams and pollution, municipal governments from across China have been sending delegations to Guangzhou. But the national government in Beijing is pushing back against further car restrictions because of worries about the huge auto industry, said An Feng, a senior adviser in Beijing to transportation policy makers.

“This has really become a battle,” Mr. An said.

 

 

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