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Car Talk

This Bystander is amused by the news that Beijing is exhorting government officials to abstain from using four-wheel drive vehicles and other gas-guzzling cars, and to take more public transport in order to lower emissions and protect the environment.

Not because that is not a worthy aim; China has pledged to cut emissions and energy consumption, concerned that rapid industrialization is placing an unbearable strain on the environment, a strain that could become the focus of organized opposition to the government. Officials are being asked to do their part by cutting car use by 20% by the end of 2008.

But because of the unusual skirt-lifting on Chinese officialdom contained in the Xinhua report of the announcement. Official vehicles are not to be used in private business or leased for commercial purposes, the announcement says. It also reminds officials that using seniority to gain the use of government cars owned by lower-level departments, or accepting vehicle donations from private enterprises, are both strictly banned.

Using government cars for private purposes is rampant as is the increasing use of ever more luxurious cars in official circles. China’s low-emission vehicles tend to be bottom of the range. We’ll see how much trading down has been done by the end of next year. We suspect not much.

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