SEOUL -- China is “today’s locomotive,” retired Volkswagen AG Chairman Carl Hahn said today. He added that the Asian nation already is creating “a new automotive world order,” with implications that reach far beyond the auto industry.
In 2009, China passed Japan to rank first among countries in vehicle production, with 13.8 million, Hahn said. Japan was second with 7.9 million, followed by the United States with 5.7 million, Germany with 5.2 million, South Korea with 3.5 million and Brazil with 3.2 million.
China will rank first among all nations in vehicle production “for the rest of this century, until India overtakes it,” Hahn predicted. Germany, he said, will be overtaken by Brazil this year in production volumes.
Last year “saw the closing chapter of the dominance of the American automobile industry,” Hahn told the Seoul Forum, a conference here hosted by the Seoul Economic Daily newspaper. Hahn was instrumental in leading VW into China through a joint venture with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. that launched production in 1985.
For China’s car density -- measured as vehicles per 1,000 people -- to rise from 19 in 2008, the most recent year for which data are available, to South Korea’s 254, the world industry would need to add capacity to assemble 30 million vehicles a year, Hahn said. That’s about equal to half of today’s total global capacity.
He also said China aims to embrace vehicle electrification as a way to “leapfrog its competitors of the traditional automotive industry.”
China is turning to electrification in part to reduce its growing dependence on imported oil. Chris Flavin, president of the Worldwatch Institute, told the conference, “If China used as much oil per person as Japan, which itself uses half as much as in the United States, you’d have to double world oil production.”
Hahn predicted electric and hybrid-electric vehicles will be limited to 10 percent of the global market until 2030. But after that, he said, technical advances will allow electrification to spread.
Increasing urbanization favors electrics, he said. In 2008, for the first time, the majority of the world’s population lived in urban rather than rural areas, Hahn said, citing data from the United Nations Population Division.
On the other hand, he said, the beneficial environmental effects of electrification depend on the energy used to create electricity.
Today’s vehicles, powered by gasoline or diesel, emit fewer than 100 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer traveled. Hahn compared that level of CO2 emissions to that from a compact car that uses 16 kilowatt-hours of electricity to travel 100 kilometers -- and adjusted for the way the electricity is generated in each market.
An electric vehicle in the European Union would indirectly emit 88.5 grams of CO2 and one in Japan would emit 95.6 grams, Hahn said, citing VW data.
In the United States, the numbers would be worse: 122.9 grams. But for China, with its vast array of coal-fired generating plants, the number would jump to 178.7. And for India, the CO2 emissions would be even higher, at 246.6 grams.