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China to boost development of cleaner conventional engines

The State Council recently issued a notice calling for a 6 to 10 percent decrease in fuel consumption in combustion engines powering automobiles, ships and machinery by 2015 compared with 2010, a further effort to reduce heavy reliance on imported oil and improve alarming air quality.

Released on its website, the notice also said that 60 percent of all combustion engines in the country should be energy saving designs by 2015.

The government will also accelerate elimination of highly polluting engines and study possible incentives such as tax cuts to promote more efficient products, it added.

The move is seen as the latest response from the central government to intense smog that covered many parts of northern China this winter. It follows a State Council timetable on stricter fuel quality standards released earlier this month.

According to statistics from the National Development and Reform Committee, China’s crude oil imports increased 7.3 percent in 2012 to 271 million tons, elevating the level of dependence on imported oil to 56.4 percent.

Some analysts see the move as a “realistic adjustment” of the government’s previous plans to save energy and cut emissions by aggressively increasing the production and sale of new energy vehicles.

An industrial plan released last July sets a production and sales target of 500,000 electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2015, and 5 million by 2020.

Responding to the call, many foreign and domestic carmakers began work on related projects and pledged to make and sell such vehicles in China in the years to come.

Yet the market appears far from ready to accept the vehicles in the near future due to high prices and the lack of charging stations, as well as perceived battery safety and stability issues, said analysts.

Statistics from China Association of Automobile Manufacturers show fewer than 13,000 electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles were sold in the country last year.

“In the near term, improved combustion engines could be more effective in saving energy and reducing emissions,” said Yale Zhang, director of consultancy Automotive Foresight (Shanghai) Co., Ltd.

“More than 10 million conventionally powered cars are now sold every year, and if their efficiency is improved – even by a little bit – it will be a considerable contribution (to the environment),” he said.

Simon Feng, an auto analyst with Menutor Consulting, said that “to improve efficiency of combustion engines is a more realistic and feasible target at this moment.”

“Electric cars still have to go through an exploratory and experimental stage for at least one more decade before they are truly commercialized,” he said.

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