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China consumers slow to buy clean cars

BEIJING -- Carmakers at the Beijing auto show are due to unveil scores of clean energy vehicles as they try to convince Chinese customers to swap gas-guzzling SUVs for cleaner but slower and pricier options.

But analysts say the rush to showcase green technology at the Auto China 2012 exhibition, which opens Monday, is unlikely to hide the fact it may still take a long time for the Asian nation to fully embrace an electric future.

The show will see the worldwide launch of 120 new models from domestic and international brands, and will include dozens of concept cars and new energy vehicles, organizers say.

Toyota, BMW, Honda and China's Warren Buffett-backed BYD have all announced they will unveil electric or hybrid cars as part of a total of 88 new energy vehicles to be displayed at the show, which ends on May 2.

"International car makers are all trying to appease the government by showing they are indeed bringing electric vehicles to China," said Namrita Chow, an analyst at research firm IHS Global Insight.

"Almost every international automaker has announced plans for electric vehicles in China. But almost all are equally as skeptical of volume sales."

China — keen to shift from its high dependence on oil — has pledged to invest more than US$14 billion to develop the technology and infrastructure for clean energy cars in a bid to have more than 5 million on the road by 2020.

The government also hopes that by promoting its own, homegrown technology, it will manage to get a step ahead of foreign auto firms, many of which have more than 100 years of experience in traditional car-making behind them.

As a result, Beijing has put pressure on foreign car makers to invest in the clean energy field in cooperation with their Chinese joint-venture partners, and is pushing for more transfer of technology.

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