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China Proposes Fuel Efficiency Standard Stricter Than in U.S.

By Keith Bradsher

The New York Times -- GUANGZHOU, China

The Chinese government is preparing to impose minimum fuel-economy standards on new cars for the first time, and the rules will be significantly more stringent than those in the United States, according to Chinese experts involved in drafting them.

The new standards are intended both to save energy and to force automakers to introduce the latest hybrid engines and other technology in China, in hopes of easing the nation’s swiftly rising dependence on oil imports from volatile countries in the Middle East. They are the latest and most ambitious in a series of steps to regulate China’s rapidly growing auto industry, following moves earlier this year to require air bags for both front-seat occupants in most new vehicles and to require that new family vehicles sold in major cities meet air-pollution standards nearly as strict as those in Western Europe and the United States.

Some popular vehicles now built in China by Western automakers, including the Chevrolet Blazer, do not measure up to the standards the government has drafted, and may have to be modified to get better gas mileage before the first phase of the new rules takes effect in July 2005.

The Chinese initiative comes at a time when Congress is close to completing work on a major energy bill that would make no significant changes in America’s fuel economy rules for vehicles. The Chinese standards, in general, would call for new cars to get up to two more miles to a gallon of fuel than the average allowed in the United States; for sport utility vehicles, the Chinese minimums would be 1.7 to 2.7 miles per gallon higher than U.S. averages.

China’s economy is booming, and a growing upper class of affluent Chinese in big cities like this one is rapidly buying all the accoutrements of a prosperous Western life, including cars. As China burns more fossil fuels, both in factories and in a burgeoning fleet of motor vehicles, its contribution to global warming is also rising faster than any other country’s.