By Alan Tovey

The Chinese government has signalled it will join the line of nations queuing up to ban the sale of diesel and petrol vehicles in the coming decades.

A senior official has told the Chinese car industry that the industry department in Beijing has begun “research on formulating a timetable to stop production and sales of traditional energy -vehicles”, according to a report from the state news agency Xinhua.

The comments by deputy industry minister Xin Guobin are viewed as a major boost to development of electric vehicles and the associated infrastructure.

China is now the world’s largest car market with 25.53 million cars and light vehicles sold in the country last year, according to industry analysts JATO.

Sales growth

Sales were up 14.6 per cent on the previous year and far outstripped the next biggest market, the U.S., which saw anaemic growth of 0.4 per cent to 17.55 million last year.

Motorists in China are also already the biggest buyers of cars powered by electric and hybrid systems – which use a combination of batteries and internal combustion engines.

Since 2015, 336,000 of these vehicles have been sold in the country, representing 40 per cent of global sales. In the first seven months of this year, 204,000 electric vehicles have been sold in China and Ford has predicted that demand for electric vehicles in the country will reach 6 million a year by 2025.

Xin spoke at a car industry event over the weekend in the eastern city of Tianjin, a key hub for the country’s fast-expanding automotive industry.

A ban could potentially come into force before similar plans announced recently by the U.K. and France, who have said they will halt the sale of new cars with petrol and diesel engines from 2040.

When the British government revealed its policy two months ago ministers came in for heavy criticism from the car industry. Officials eventually conceding that “hybrids” would not be covered by the ban.

Electric race

The Beijing government is desperate to grab a lead in the global race to develop electric cars, both to clean up its heavily congested, smog-bound cities and to secure a leading place in the car industry of the future.

Volvo, which is owned by Chinese conglomerate Geely, created a splash in July when it said in July that from 2019 all new cars in its range would come with an electric option, a move which was aped by Jaguar Land Rover – which has a factory in China – last week with a target date of 2020.

The Chinese government is providing billions in incentives to automotive companies to develop electric car technology, offers which have attracted a host of international car makers. In the past few months Renault Nissan, Ford and Volkswagen Group have formed joint ventures as they try to tap into the market.

Ian Fletcher, principal automotive analyst with IHS Markit, said: “Western companies want to be in such a big market and the only way to get access is to partner up with a local company.”

Professor David Bailey, an automotive industry expert at Aston University, added: “The government wants to develop an indigenous electric vehicle industry and supply chain as part of its industrial policy.”