Gas-guzzling China

Those SUVs Americans aren't buying anymore? Ship 'em to Shanghai.

By Andrew Leonard
May 6, 2008 12:10AM (UTC)
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A Beijing News editorial (translated by China Digital Times) brings us the dispiriting news that SUV sales are "skyrocketing" in China. While sales of SUVs for the year ending in March dropped 22 percent in the United States, they rose 40-45 percent in China.

How the World Works' first reaction to this news of up-and-coming-Chinese gas guzzling was a shrug. If gas and oil prices keep rising (or stay the same) the same impulses that are driving Americans to flock to small cars and hybrids will make China's dalliance with monster trucks short-lived. A billion or so Chinese are not going to be driving Chevy Tahoes in any conceivable future -- it will be physically impossible. So, not such a big deal. But then I looked a little closer.


If unchecked, this warped development of the auto industry will in the next few years seriously threaten China's energy security, environmental protection, living standards and economic development. China's oil prices are one of the cheapest among major oil importing nations. Now the Chinese government is trying to curb oil price increases, apparently to help the public deal with inflation. But the biggest beneficiaries from this are the rich who can afford luxurious cars or SUVs. Which is to say, the wealthy are using government subsidies on oil and infrastructure to enjoy their lives while polluting the environment. In the end, the cost of solving the energy, environment and infrastructure problems will be distributed to the general public.

Italics mine. On second thought, it's clear that governmental policies aimed at artificially lowering the price of gas can easily have unintended, disastrous consequences. Which the wealthy rarely have to suffer.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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