Beijing plans curbs on automobile registration as auto count nears 5 million
The government of Beijing municipality announced on December 23 that it would limit issuance of new license plates and impose traffic control measures to reduce road congestion.
This will slow down Beijing’s and China’s dramatically growing demand for oil, though this tiny slowdown won’t be noticeable.
(Photos: Chang'an Avenue 1983. and Chang'an Avenue 2010. This is the principal east-west road in central Beijing.)
The number of new license plates will be capped at 240,000 during 2011, or 20,000 per month. Prospective purchasers will have to participate in a lottery, which will establish waiting periods. Some might have to wait one to two years for a license plate. Private buyers will receive 88 percent of the plates, commercial users will receive two percent, and the remainder will go to "company and government institutions and others."
More than 700,000 new vehicles were sold in Beijing during 2020, bring the total number of registered vehicles to more than 4.7 million.
Rumors of the new measures triggered a car-buying frenzy during December. Vehicle ownership within Beijing jumped by 30,000 during the week of December 19.
Under the new regulations, each Beijing resident will be permitted to register only one vehicle. Beijing municipal agencies and institutions will not increase the size of their motor vehicle fleets during the next five years. Parking fees will be increased, and vehicles registered outside of Beijing will be banned from entering the central area (within the "5th Ring Road") during morning and evening peak periods. An "odd-even" traffic control system, based on license plate numbers, might be used during holidays, major events and bad weather. The "odd-even" system was used during the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.
 
It wasn't "that long ago" when the number of privately-owned motor vehicles in China was exactly zero.
China began manufacturing trucks during the 1930s, and automobiles during the 1950s. However, vehicles could not be licensed to private owners as recently as 1983. Sources consulted for this post do not state an exact year for the licensing of the first "private" motor vehicle (post-1949) in China. However, statistics on private motor vehicles were published from 1985, when the number of "civil" (i.e. non-military) motor vehicles was stated at 3.2 million. Fewer than 20,000 were "private passenger vehicles," and most of these were "business" rather than "household" vehicles. This in a country with a population (at 1985) of 1.07 billion (of which roughly 25 percent, about 250 million, was "urban").
Domestic motor vehicle production at 1985 was little more than 5,000. In spite of a high import duty (260 percent), China imported more than 350,000 vehicles during 1985. Domestic production and sales grew at a remarkable rate thereafter. Production, 1.0 million at 1992, reached 1.2 million at 1999 and nearly doubled to 2.1 million at 2000. It reached 5.7 million at 2005, and 13.8 million at 2009.
The Ministry of Public Security announced in October that China had 199 million registered motor vehicles, including 85 million automobiles. These statistics include "all" autos, motorcycles, trucks, buses and so forth, and "all" owners (military vehicles are presumably excluded).  
At 2002, the share of all motor vehicles purchased by individuals reached 50 percent. By 2008, 76 percent of China's vehicles were privately-owned. Private automobiles accounted for more than 31 percent of privately-owned vehicles, and nearly 24 percent of all motor vehicles. The number of private automobiles, nearly 40.2 million, increased by nearly 14 percent from September 2007 to September 2008.
The number of "legal" (licensed) drivers at 2010 was stated at 205 million, including 144 million automobile drivers.
During 2009, China surpassed Japan as the world's largest motor-vehicle manufacturer, and the U.S. as the world's largest market.
[The] combination of soaring car ownership, frantic motorway construction and a booming economy evokes images of America in the 1920s, when the car transformed the aspirations of the middle class, and the 1950s, when the federal government built the interstate highways. Yet, in China's case, these developments have been compressed into just a few years. Government willpower has made this possible. China's strategy, inspired not least by America's experience, is to make the car industry a pillar of its economy. It welcomed foreign carmakers, as long as they formed joint ventures and took no more than a 50% share. And with the banks under its control, it pushed investment into the sector and mandated a flood of lending to private individuals in order to fuel demand.
Cars in China: Dream machines, The Economist, June 2, 2005.
In December, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers announced that Chinese automakers sold nearly 1.7 million new vehicles in November, including exports. This was up by more than 10 percent from October, and up by nearly 26.9 percent from November 2009.
Passenger car sales increased by nearly 29.3 percent from November 2009 to November 2010. More than 1.3 million were sold during November 2010.
Monthly vehicle production during November 2010 was nearly 1.8 million, including nearly 1.4 million passenger cars and nearly 400,000 commercial vehicles.
Sales of all motor vehicles totaled more than 13.1 million during the first nine months of 2010. This was up by nearly 40.0 percent from 2009, and exceeded the annual total for that year (13.7 million).
ChinaAutoWeb projected that sales by Chinese automakers would reach 17 million during 2010, nearly matching the highest annual sales volume achieved in the U.S. (17.4 million, in 2000). Total sales for the year were 16.4 million through November.
ChinaAutoWeb also projected that the it would take "at least a decade" before China has the same number of registered motor vehicles as the U.S.
 
References:
Deng, Xin. 2007. Private Car Ownership in China: How Important is the effect of Income? Adelaide: Centre of Regulation and Market Analysis, School of Commerce, University of South Australia.
How Many Cars are There in China? ChinaAutoWeb, September 5, 2010.
Most Popular New Cars in November. ChinaAutoWeb, December 10, 2010.