Beijing traffic rules turn car showrooms into ghost towns

For the past year, car showrooms in Beijing have been heaving with people keen to buy their slice of the country's new middle-class dream. But now they are deserted.

Last month, Beijing said it would slash the number of new registrations for 2011 to ease chronic gridlock and thick pollution in the capital - good news for frustrated drivers but terrible news for car dealers and would-be buyers.

Li Hao, a sales manager for Chinese automaker Chery, told AFP he had not sold a car since December 24, when the tough restrictions took effect.

"We definitely won't make money this year," Li told AFP, as he sat in the showroom, which was nearly empty except for a few bored-looking sales assistants and a handful of customers finalising earlier purchases.

"Our income and sales will definitely drop and I'm worried about my own income and job. Every car salesperson is thinking about this problem."

In an attempt to ease severe traffic congestion, Beijing will allow 240,000 cars to hit the roads this year through a licence plate lottery system - about one-third of the number of new cars registered in 2010.

Expectations about the new car curbs sparked a surge in December sales, with about 20,000 sold in the first week of the month alone, state media said - more than double the 9,000 cars sold in the same period in 2009.

China's decision to scrap tax cuts for small cars from January 1 also boosted sales.

Li said his dealership had been packed with customers wanting to buy a set of wheels before the new rules took effect.

One of those people was Tian Mao, a 33-year-old wine salesman who wanted a car to make his lengthy commute more palatable.

As soon as he heard reports about the new restrictions, he went to the Chery showroom and paid 70,000 yuan (10,600 dollars) for a car.

"I'm very happy. I bought the car a week before the new rules were introduced. It was quite cheap," Tian told AFP as he finished his ownership paperwork.

As well as easing bottlenecks - deemed the world's worst in an IBM survey conducted in mid-2010 - authorities hope the new rules will help clean up the notoriously dirty air in the city of 19 million people.

Air quality has been getting worse amid high demand for private vehicles from the city's increasingly affluent residents - and has been blamed for deterring people from riding their bicycles instead of driving cars.

But environmental activists said the rules would have little impact on pollution levels in the capital.

"This is a policy that really came too late," Yang Ailun, climate and energy campaign manager for Greenpeace China, told AFP.

"It came at a time when the traffic and the local pollution problem in Beijing are already out of control."

Other cities around China, which overtook the United States as the world's biggest car market in 2009 and which this year is expected to see total sales of 20 million units, are introducing measures to relieve congestion.

Shanghai, which has about one-third the number of registered vehicles as Beijing, even though the populations of the two cities are about the same, has restricted new number plates for many years.

In the southern city of Guangzhou, authorities are trying to reduce traffic by ordering cars off the roads based on the last digit of the licence plate.

A similar system is also in place in Beijing but is widely ignored - and blamed in part for the exploding number of cars clogging the streets, as some residents have simply bought another car to stay behind the wheel.

Analysts nevertheless believe Beijing's new rules will only put a small dent in car sales this year.

"The overall impact on the auto industry is not going to be very big - about 200,000-300,000 units per year," said John Zeng, an analyst with IHS Global Insight in Shanghai.

Zeng estimated sales would be boosted by people buying new cars to replace their old ones, while others will register their cars in neighbouring provinces to get around the restrictions.

The real victims of the measures will be small dealerships, said Zeng, who believes 20-30 percent will be forced to close.

Other predictions are more dire. The National Passenger Car Information Exchange Association forecasts 50 percent of car dealers will be driven out of the market, the China Daily said.

As he looked across the empty showroom, Li said he expected monthly sales to plunge to 45 units this year from 200 units in 2010. Apart from reducing staff salaries, Li doesn't know how he will make up the shortfall.

"I haven't come up with a very good idea so far to increase sales or income," he said.

"We can only wait and see what happens."

 

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Sport
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    CRM Data Analyst – Part time – Permanent – Surrey – Circa £28,000 pro rata

    £15000 - £16800 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

    Mechanical Design Engineer

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A key client in the East Midlands are re...

    Year 5/6 Teacher

    £21000 - £31000 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The JobWe are looking ...

    Teacher

    £90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The Job...Due to continued ...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice