I have a secret to tell you

Updated: 2011-06-01 14:22

By Gong Zhengzheng (China Daily)

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When I was asked to write this column, I felt a little embarrassed. The main reason is that as a senior correspondent and editor covering the auto industry over 12 years at China Daily, I'm still not a car owner, although I got a driving license eight years ago. For this, I'm always ridiculed by many colleagues.

Also, my memory stretches to nearly 30 years ago when a schoolmate, whose father was a driver for a government leader, pointed to a white sedan on a road and told me: "Look, that's my Dad's car, a (Volkswagen) Santana!"

I was impressed deeply and even now remember the plate number: 11930. But how naive I was that for several years since then, every time I saw a white sedan, I thought it was a Santana.

Despite the two embarrassments, I know the development of China's auto industry inside out.

Over the past 12 years, I've interviewed all the chairmen, CEOs or other top executives of global and homegrown carmakers, as well as dozens of government officials and experts. In addition, I've attended more than 1,000 news conferences and ceremonies for automotive product launches at home and abroad.

China's auto market has been on a fast lane over the past three decades, especially since its WTO entry in 2001, as a result of the country's opening up, steady economic growth, the people's growing thirst for individual mobility and global carmaker's mounting investments here.

Last year, more than 18 million vehicles were sold in China, up from a staggering 149,000 in 1978. And China has been the world's top auto market over the past two years.

Already, it's common for people to talk about when to buy a car or a second one, and what models to choose.

Nevertheless, the prosperous auto industry is plagued by two main problems - traffic jams and pollution - especially in big cities, which will no doubt deter its sustainable development.

These two matters also can help me answer the question why I still do not own a car, despite the fact I badly need a car - at least for my pregnant wife.

But it's really a headache to drive in Beijing where there are almost 5 million vehicles.

I have to race against time every morning to office in a taxi, especially when I pass an intersection roughly 400 meters north of my office which is one of the most severely congested spots in the northern part of Beijing.

In addition, my colleagues say parking will be another headache if I had a car. The government has realized these problems and has taken action.

On Jan 1, the Beijing municipal government started restricting car registrations to tackle the gridlock. Only 240,000 automobiles, one-third of last year's figure, will be allowed to be registered this year. And people who want to buy a car will have to join a car-license plate lottery every month.

That is also why I have again delayed buying a car.

However, I prefer to believe it's an interim measure and look forward to any long-term and more acceptable policies from the government, to ease traffic jams while not throttling car ownership.

If this comes true, I will, of course, buy a car - and my colleagues will not ridicule me any longer.

Gong Zhengzheng is director of China Daily's special reports department.




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