Thursday, August 18, 2005

Bankrupt Chinese Bike Company

This article about the bankruptcy of a Chinese bicycle company due to slumping demand as people move to cars is interesting. There are many ramifications of all this, from demand for concrete, steel and oil to pollution and global warming.
There's a thousand new cars each day on the streets of Beijing alone. (This is a dramatic figure, but on the other hand, I wonder how many new cars there are in the metro Twin Cities area each day). This is from the Times of London, for which one of my cousins writes.

Booming economic cycle drives a giant of the road into bankruptcy
By Jane Macartney in Beijing

CHINA BICYCLE, one of the biggest manufacturers and the largest exporter in the country, went into bankruptcy this week, a victim of the growing Chinese love affair with the car.

The company, based in the southern boomtown of Shenzhen, has an annual production capacity of more than three million bicycles, but has fallen foul of a dramatic slump in domestic demand and fierce competition from Chinese rivals in the overseas market.

It will hardly surprise the Chinese cyclist, who has become an increasingly endangered species in cities where once the two-wheeled commuter was king of the road.

In Beijing alone, a thousand new cars take to the streets each day. Figures for cyclists are more difficult to come by, reflecting the lack of interest by authorities in what was once the main mode of transport.

Beijing used to be overwhelmed by cyclists, with one lane of every road set aside for them. Cycle lanes survive in Beijing, but only just. They are now crowded with cars that edge the brave few cyclists on to the pavement. Cyclists have become almost an oddity, although knife sharpeners still ride the narrow lanes and the leak-fixer flaunts his services on street corners.

The rise of the car has generated another hazard for the beleaguered pedaller: rampant pollution. For the past two weeks Beijing has sweated under a pall of smog. The air has turned brown. Visibility has been barely 200 yards. Skyscrapers have been enveloped by a thick choking mist. The skyline has simply disappeared.

Environmentalists say that clogged traffic in a city divided by a few main roads into a patchwork of tiny lanes weaving through near-unnavigable neighbourhoods is the main cause of the smog, which is exacerbated by pollution from coal-burning power plants and by a lack of funds to update electricity generation in Beijing and other big cities from coal to cleaner fuel such as natural gas.

Environmental authorities say that they have done everything that their budget allows to improve the air. Yu Jie, an expert with Greenpeace in the capital, said: “Now it is very difficult to do more.”

For days officials have been praying for wind. Their prayers were answered when heavy rains and thunderstorms blew across Beijing for 24 hours, sweeping away the filthy air that had hung over the city for nearly a fortnight. Fewer cars and more bicycles would help. But Shanghai has banned bicycles from main thoroughfares in an effort to modernise the city and improve traffic flow.

Consultants preparing Beijing for the 2008 Olympics are discussing banning cyclists from main streets unless they can be trained to obey traffic regulations.

Old habits may die hard with cyclists. Most are accustomed to ruling the road but are well aware that recent laws brought in very severe penalties and fines for any driver of a motor vehicle who so much as touches a commuter travelling under his own steam.

However, the internal combustion engine seems destined to win, as cars multiply at an unprecedented rate.

The direct article link is here but I don't know how long this will work.

They're already having bad pollution over there and they are just starting into the automobile buildup. One wonders if they'll have the sense to compel cleaner cars or if compliance with those sorts of dictates will be poor and the country will become a big traffic-choked stinking cloud. One also wonders about the geopolitical ramifications of this, the crowding, traffic, oil demand and pollution. What's the old curse? May you live in interesting times?

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