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China’s Car Boom Could Go Bust

Reining in sales in the name of clean air.

by on Mar.01, 2013

Ford CEO Alan Mulally during a recent trip to China. Ford's sales are booming but could slip if regulators curtail the Chinese market.

After a few stutters last year, China’s massive automotive market seemed to get back on track in January, sales surging 46% compared to year-earlier levels. Yet there’s growing concern that the good times won’t continue for long.

There are a number of reasons to be worried, including a still frail global economy, nagging regional issues that include an ongoing territorial dispute with Japan and declining foreign investment. Yet the biggest concern, it seems, may be China’s endemic and worsening problems with air pollution.

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That has already led Chinese regulators to call for a rapid switch to battery-powered vehicles. But with market demand lagging Beijing’s call, a growing number of observers fear the central government may soon put in place steps to curb automotive ownership.

A growing number of major cities, including capital Beijing and economic center Shanghai, have already put restrictions in place, such as monthly limits on new vehicle registrations – though such measures have generally been aimed at curbing traffic problems, rather than emissions issues.