The auto industry must switch its attention from oil to alternative fuels if it is to help combat the global energy crisis and slow environmental deterioration, Chinese experts have said.
The development of energy-saving technologies has to be the priority for China's auto industry, which is expected to become the world's largest in 10 to 15 years, Zhen Zijian, deputy director of the New Energy Vehicle Key Project of the National Hi-Tech R&D Program, said.
"China's auto industry has attached great importance to the development of 'clean' vehicles using our own core technologies to give us a competitive edge," Zhen said.
The government has earmarked 1.1 billion yuan (147 million U.S. dollars) for its clean vehicle project during the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10), up 220 million yuan on the previous five-year period.
The State Development and Planning Commission has also launched the New Energy Vehicle Production Access Regulation, effective from Thursday, to ensure the healthy development of the clean vehicle industry.
"We need to promote the development of clean vehicles with support from the government, private enterprises and research institutes," Zhen said.
Participants at the Clean Vehicle Innovation Forum, held on Friday in Beijing and sponsored by the Ministry of Science and Technology, agreed.
Professor Ouyang Minggao of the automotive engineering department of Tsinghua University, said: "New energy is the driving force for the sustainable growth of the auto industry and we need to form an innovation union of private companies, research bodies and universities."
China's clean auto research is currently being driven along three paths – hybrid, clean fuel and electric vehicles, Ouyang said.
The Zhejiang-based Geely Automobile, for example, which produces small cars, last year spent 30 million yuan on the development of a hybrid vehicle that combines a standard internal combustion engine with electric power.
Chery Automobile, one of the country's largest carmakers, began clean vehicle research in 2003.
Its hybrid vehicle, which the company claims uses up to 30 percent less gasoline than a standard car, will be launched early next year.