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With the Beijing Olympics just around the corner, China faces one big problem - pollution. The air quality in the capital has reached such drastic levels that some athletes feel they won’t be able to get the necessary oxygen to perform.

In August this year an air quality survey in Beijing found 200mg of particulate matter in every cubic metre of air, which is four times worse than the level considered safe in Europe and Australia.

China feels that addressing climate change and pollution will hinder its industrial and social growth which includes the enormous desire for China’s middle class to own a car.

One small way to address the issue is via hybrid cars. Toyota was the first with the Prius but so far sales have been well below expectations with only 2000 of the cars sold last year.

Now it’s General Motors’ turn. Martin Murray, manager of Asia-Pacific hybrid engineering for GM Asia Pacific today announced plans to produce a hybrid car in China beginning in 2008. The aim is to have the car ready for the Beijing Olympics in August.

However it seems GM’s plans are primarily for PR purposes with Harry Zhao, China powertrain analyst for CSM Worldwide stating that despite the Prius’s small sales, GM doesn’t “want to be lagging behind Toyota. They want to prove to the Chinese customers and government that they have hybrid technology“.

Industry forecasts show that only 14,000 hybrid vehicles will be built annually in China by 2013. The slow uptake of hybrid cars is mainly due to the additional costs. According to Mr Murray the additional cost of a hybrid setup, is about $US2000, which is an enormous cost compared to a middle class income n China.
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