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Eco-Cars Spell Growth

Government officials in China have been looking for ways to curb air pollution. Officials in the southwestern city of Chengdu in Sichuan Province are doing that by developing and promoting eco-friendly vehicles.

Like many cities around China, Chengdu has a major problem with air pollution from car emissions. So, five years ago, the central government made Chengdu a model city for promoting electric vehicles.

One company to establish a base in Chengdu is Tesla, a major US maker of electric cars. Tesla has also set up 50 charging stations around the city.

"Many companies in the field of alternative energy have set up in Chengdu, and they are growing steadily," said Kenny Ke, Tesla's South China regional manager. "You could say the business conditions are ideal for us."

The company is also benefiting from a recent government policy to offer consumers up to 10,000 dollars in subsidies to buy electric vehicles.

"By cutting prices and making it more convenient to use electric vehicles in the city, we can help to boost their popularity, said Zhao Gang, vice director of the Chengdu Planning Administrative Bureau. "This will lead to more people using clean energy, which will improve the environmental conditions here."

Chengdu also has 300 electric buses. Though that's only 3 percent of the total fleet, the aim is to raise that figure to 30 percent. Fourteen charging stations for the buses have been set up around the city, and there are plans to install many more.

A research institute based in Chengdu is developing its own electric motors, with backing from the central government. Last December, it unveiled a new type of city bus with a smaller, space-saving motor. They've made the new motors thinner and more compact by changing the alignment of the magnets. The smaller motor frees up enough space inside the bus for 12 extra passengers.

Chengdu has about 20 car-related manufacturers, so all of the components can be sourced locally. The first of the new buses will go into operation next month, with a total of 500 buses due to be built in the first year.

The Chinese government's promotion of electric vehicles isn't just to reduce air pollution. It's also a way to catch up with advanced countries in the development of cutting-edge technologies.

"China is lagging on existing technologies," said Laintem Motors Chairman Shi Dixing. "But that's not an issue with electric vehicles. We'll never catch up with the advanced nations in producing conventional vehicles. But we will have a chance with new technologies. That's why we're putting all our efforts into this new field."

Kunihiro Yamamoto of the Beijing bureau discusses the Chinese government's effort to get consumers to buy electric cars.

One of the biggest challenges is introducing more charging stations. Government subsidies have lowered the costs of electric cars, but many potential buyers are worried whether there will be enough charging stations in their area. Addressing these concerns will be the key to increasing the use of electric cars.

The Chinese government has put a lot of financial resources into reaching its goal of building 12,000 charging stations around the country by 2020. It has also placed sales restrictions on gasoline-fueled automobiles in order to cut down on traffic in major cities. It hopes these policies will put 5 million electric cars on the streets by 2020.

The Chinese government is extremely determined, even overbearing, in its goal to increase the use of electric cars across the country. If its plan progresses smoothly, not only will the country cut its air pollution levels - it will also be able to export the vehicles it has developed.

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