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Green cars still at red light

Despite being the world's largest car market, emission-free vehicles have not quite caught on in China. Bloomberg reports that in 2012, Chinese consumers only bought 11,375 electric cars in a market with sales that reached 19.3 million. However, in an effort to boost lukewarm sales and combat the choking air pollution, the government is giving away subsidies up to Rmb60,000 (US$9,800) to buyers of all-electric, "near all-electric" and hydrogen vehicles until 2015, BBC reports. China is planning to put five million "new-energy" vehicles on the road by 2020. The question is whether the Chinese will pay a premium for a greener ride.

Fuel-efficient cars have not quite caught on in India, either. As the Hindustan Times reports, only 163 Toyota Prius's had been sold in the country since early 2014 since this model was introduced in January 2010. The Civic hybrid, launched four years ago, sold just 60 units. It appears the average buyer does not want to pay the 25-30 percent premium. "In India, there is no propensity to pay more for a hybrid or electric car although they are less polluting and more fuel-efficient,” says Kumar Kandaswami, senior director, Deloitte India. "With conventional fuel price going high, more people will find alternative fuel-run cars attractive. However, we are not going to see any significant demand for hybrid cars."

Although a global leader in fuel-efficient vehicles, sales in Japan have dropped by 11.7 percent in 2013 from the previous year due to the expiration of government subsidies for green cars. In 2012, the subsidies had largely contributed to car sales climbing by 27.5 percent to a record-breaking 5.37 million units. Car sales for 2013 were predicted to fall by 13.2 percent to 2.94 million units.

But many other countries have embraced a greener initiative. South Korea's Ministry of Environment (MOE) announced in March 2013 their vision of becoming a "green car superpower." According to, there are currently 1,200 eco-cars in the nation, and the government's goal is to increase that amount by 10 percent. Aiming high, the agency also hopes to raise the total number of electric vehicles to one million by 2020.

Malaysia is also hoping to turn its auto industry into the premiere energy efficient vehicle hub of Southeast Asia. Going after rivals Thailand and Indonesia (and their respective "Eco Car" and "Green Car" programmes), Malaysia is hoping to attract foreign and domestic green car manufacturers with lower taxes and grants. The government hopes to double its total production volume for passenger cars from 0.57 million units in 2012 to 1.25 million units by 2020. – Lorraine Chow