Ministry urges easing rules on license plates

(China Daily)| Updated : 2021-01-12

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Many city and town residents stand to benefit from increased access to vehicle ownership

Feng Sichun's almost forlorn hope of having a car was rekindled somewhat last week when local authorities in the 35-year-old engineer's home city of Tianjin said it would scale up the number of car license plates available in 2021.

In a notice on Jan 5, the city's development and reform commission said it is planning to offer another 35,000 car plates this year, increasing the total to 135,000.

Tianjin is the first city to announce that it would offer extra car plates this year, but more are expected to follow.

China's Ministry of Commerce, together with another 11 ministries and commissions, issued a notice last week that called for cities with restrictive measures on car purchases to relax the measures.

"I almost gave up. Luck has been evading me too long," Feng said. She registered her name in the city's license plate lottery system in 2015, about 13 months after Tianjin introduced limits on car purchases.

"The chances are slim, but the government is making them better by more than one-third," Feng added, with a hint of sarcasm.

Yet sarcasm won't solve life's problems. Feng is unmarried and lives with her parents. Both parents suffer chronic diseases, including diabetes, that require regular visits to hospital.

Feng said car-hailing is easy these days, but her parents have to wait at the gate of the community. It is some 300 meters from their building, but getting there can be an arduous job for people older in age, especially when it rains or snows.

"I don't just want a car, I need it," she said. "If I fail the lottery again this year, I will buy one, even though it is expensive."

In Tianjin, there are two ways to win a license plate: test your luck in the lottery or buy it through an auction. It cost around 17,000 yuan ($2,626) to get a plate in the auction last year, which is about three times the amount an average Tianjin worker earns in a month.

The choice has made people in Beijing envious. They can do nothing until luck comes to them. Statistics showed that one in every 3,000 people in the capital city's gasoline car license plate lottery was picked in the last round of 2020.

Another option is waiting in line for electric car and plug-in hybrid plates. It would take almost a decade for people who put their names on the waiting list now.

Yet things are set to turn for the better this year. The Beijing government is allowing candidates to apply with their qualified family members if they have a local hukou, or household registration, or have paid taxes in the city for at least five years.

Families stand a better chance than individuals, as the Ministry of Commerce said in its notice.

Like in previous years, Beijing is offering 100,000 license plates in 2021. Of them, 60,000 are for electric cars and plug-in hybrids, and 60 percent of them will go to family candidates. The proportion will become 70 percent in 2022 and 80 percent in 2023.

The move offers a glimmer of hope to commuters in the giant city. There are around 6 million vehicles in the capital, but many commuters don't have their own car.

"It takes me two hours from home to get to my office," said Huang Liang, a government clerk who lives in Beijing's Tongzhou but works in Xicheng district. "I catch a taxi from my home to the subway station, take the subway, and walk to my office."

He said driving would cut his commute by about 30 minutes. More importantly, with COVID-19 still spreading, he is reluctant to use public transport because his son is just two years old.

The Ministry of Commerce is also urging measures to unleash the consumption potential in rural areas.

It started a campaign last year with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to sell electric cars in the countryside. Around 180,000 were sold in four months, and the campaign will continue in 2021.

Carmakers love the measures. Their sales suffered when COVID-19 spread in 2020. Brands including Buick, Geely and Volkswagen saw their sales fall.

Preliminary data from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers showed overall sales last year could fall by 2 percent from 2019, thanks to the demand recovery in the country.

It had estimated that the fall could be between 10-25 percent when the pandemic was at its peak in China.

"The recovery beat our expectations, and it shows the demand for cars is still there," said Xu Haidong, a senior official at the association. "And we estimate the vehicle market will start gradual growth in 2021."

The association estimates that 30 million vehicles would be sold in China by 2025.