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China to motivate EV uptake with new green licence plates

New green licence plate issued by Chongqing. Source: Yicai

China’s Traffic Management Bureau, part of the Ministry of Public Security, has released further details about its national scheme to use green licence plates to designate electric and hybrid vehicles.

The scheme has been successfully piloted in Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuxi, Jinan, and Shenzhen, meaning that the country has decided to continue on a national level. New coloured licence plates have been available to certain users of electric and hybrid vehicles from the end of last month. The scheme will be extended, via two more stages, to provincial capitals and some major cities by the end of this year. Early next year will see the rollout of the initiative across the whole of China.

The coloured licence plates will feature several markers to let traffic officials, and other drivers, know what type of car is being driven. Earlier this year, the Ministry issued a statement to announce the scheme, implying that this recognition factor was just as important as uptake; “The initiative will make it easier for the public to recognize new energy vehicles, and it plays an essential role in the development and upgrading of the new energy industry”.

The new plates include specific colourations – green for small electric vehicles and yellow/green for large electric vehicles. There will also be extra letters present, in order to distinguish between fully electric and other vehicles (such as plug-ins and hydrogen cars).

Furthermore, this is not the only plan that China has, involving plates, to help bring down emissions. During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China decided to ration road usage depending on if a licence plate ended on an odd or even number. It has recently been announced that such rationing will restart, and will extend to other cities, in a bid to help reduce day-to-day pollution levels.

There have been arguments against licence plate rationing, with some citizens saying that coal burning is far more of an issue than vehicle use. However, the first day of a trial in Baoding revealed that air pollution had gone from “severe pollution” to “lightly polluted” after only six hours of restrictions. Public transport will not be affected so it is hoped that drivers will opt to use buses and car-pooling on a more frequent basis.


Long wait

Currently, it is extremely difficult to obtain any sort of new licence plate in China. Prospective drivers may face extremely long waits, high costs, and inefficient lottery systems, in order to make their vehicle road-legal. That factor, alongside the ever-increasing uptake of EVs in the country, has already driven subscriptions for green plates to over 80,000.

There are concerns that the scheme could end up the same way as regular plate issuing, but it is hoped that practices and policies will be easier to fulfil. It may also concentrate EV use in cities, rather than encouraging them across the board. According to Fitch Ratings, 70% of EVs are sold in just 6 Chinese cities.

In order to try and combat the problem of over-subscription, the ministry has implemented several methods and ‘preferential policies’ to allow users to apply for green plates, including using an app, web portal, and a special application window at issuing authorities. Wang Qiang, deputy director of the Traffic Management Bureau, specified that “new energy vehicle owners who continue using their ordinary plates will still be registered in a database and fall under the different management system.”

Green: Small vehicle. Green and yellow: Large vehicle. D: Hybrid/other zero or low emission vehicle. F: Fully electric. Source: EVObsession

Tellingly, it has been reported that there are over 1 million ‘new energy vehicles’ on the road, in China, and this scheme is sure to increase demand even further. Alongside a 45% increase in uptake (from this time last year), there are countless stories of automakers investing heavily in production for the Chinese market. The most recent is the US$756 million put into a new brand from Ford Motor Co., but Volvo, Renault-Nissan, General Motor, and NEVS, have all made similar announcements over the past few months. Although these companies have to adhere to (slightly lessened) EV quotas, the preference for making small, fully-electric, affordable cars suggests that the market is really driving up investment and production.

Overall, the initiative seems like a promising way of tackling vehicle pollution at an individual level. A user can take advantage of the comparable ease of actually obtaining a licence plate as well as fewer potential restrictions on driving. There could, perhaps, also be a sense of pride, or trend-setting, from owning a green plate – a clever move by the government to capitalise on consumerism and personal honour.

Regardless of the ways in which China has decided to help reduce emissions, the country is doing well at motivating EV uptake. Therefore, the question we really have to ask is whether or not similar schemes would be a success in other countries – and if not, why?


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