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Summary
Initiated by CBU/CAR, China on Wheels will see three automotive industry experts traverse through 17 Provinces and cities in three self-owned brand vehicles Over a period of 45 days from September to November.
China on Wheels
- The Transformation of Peronsal Mobility in China
Half of China’s heavy-duty trucks on the G6
Oct 27, 2011

“China on Wheels – The Transformation of Personal Mobility” (1)

 

– by Wayne Xing

Date of Publish: 2011-10-22

 

The “Gang of Four” left Beijing on September 25 for a 45-day driving expedition after a brief ceremony at the China Ethnic Park in the western part of the city.

 

The goal of China on Wheels is to find out how the automobile, the machine that has changed the world, is changing China and its 1.3 billion people.

 

Leading our team is Lao Zhai or Old Zhai. Even though he is 17 years my junior, Lao Zhai is probably China’s only and undisputed million-miler who has driven all kinds of vehicles on all kinds of roads over the past 10 years, not to mentioned four ventures into Tibet and the Himalayas. Jones Zhong, editor of CBU’s Chinese language weekly newsletter (www.cbuauto.com.cn), is a veteran automotive analyst and commentator, although less experienced behind the wheels. Wang Xiaodong, a freelance photographer as well as an experience driver, joined our team in the last minute at the suggestion of Lao Zhai.

 

Three local Chinese carmakers, Dongfeng Passenger Vehicle Co., Ltd., Jianghuai Automobile Corp. (JAC) and Hawtai Motor, each provided a brand new car in support of our driving expedition. The red Aeolus H30 Cross made by Dongfeng, one of China’s big four automobile groups, is a new compact variant launched last April powered by a 1.6L engine. The Rein is a 2.0L turbo CUV made by JAC, and the B11 is a mid-level sedan powered by a 1.8L turbo engine assembled by privately-owned carmaker Hawtai Motor. All three vehicles have manual transmissions.

 

In preparation for the expedition, all of us agreed that we should leave on a Sunday rather than a weekday. Remember the famous 15-day 100 km standstill on the Beijing-Tibet Expressway or the G6 in August 2010? It would be a nightmare if we started on a weekday driving north into Inner Mongolia because there is no other road into Hebei Province except taking the G6, formerly known as the Badaling Expressway in Beijing. We also intentionally left close to mid-day on Sunday thinking that we could avoid joining Beijing tourists driving in the morning to visit the famous Badaling (Eight Big Hills) Great Wall.

 

We were wrong.

 

We hit traffic as soon as we passed Beijing’s 6th Ring Road. Cars, buses and trucks seemed to have emerged from nowhere but we were still able to move along, even though slowly, towards Badaling. Over our Motorola walkie-talkies we were bragging about how lucky we were because traffic at a parallel highway half way up the mountains, the G110, looked packed and at a standstill. Drivers and passengers were out on the road trying to figure out what was happening ahead.

 

Our luck did not last long. Just as we were ready to speed after we entered Hebei Province near Huailai as momentarily the G6 in front of us seemed to be wide open, traffic suddenly slowed and then crawled into almost a standstill. Lao Zhai immediately made a decision that we make an excursion onto G110 as we spotted an exit coming up. For almost 200 km until we reached Xinghe in Inner Mongolia, we were able to drive only 15-20 km an hour on the beaten G110 sandwiched in coal trucks one after another. Endless trucks made by Dongfeng, FAW, Foton, China National Heavy-Duty Truck and Shaanxi Auto etc. with loaded coal were crawling past us coming out of Inner Mongolia.

 

The culprit for traffic jams on the G6 and G110 is coal. Thousands of tons of coal from Erdos and other mines in Inner Mongolia must depend on heavy-duty trucks for distribution in north, northeast, central and east China.

 

“How could it be not jammed when half of the country’s heavy trucks are on the only one or two highways in between Inner Mongolia and Beijing,” quipped a trucker. Another trucker resting in the cabin while parking on G110 unable to move at all told us: “Probably two-thirds of China’s heavy trucks are here trucking coal.” China’s Central Television reported that heavy trucks from 14 provinces flock to Erdos for coal. No wonder sales of medium and heavy-duty trucks in 2010 reached more than 1 million units.

 

Coal in Erdos and other parts of Inner Mongolia are cheaper than in Shanxi Province. Since 2009, Inner Mongolia has surpassed Shanxi to become China’s largest coal producing province, with annual output exceeding 600 million tons.

 

Daily passage of trucks and other vehicles on the G6 and G110 have reached 80,000-100,000 units, but designed traffic capacity for the G6 is only 7,000 vehicles a day. In an effort to reduce traffic, highway authorities in Inner Mongolia and Hebei Province are forced to restrict truck access on part of the G6 based on the last digit of their license plates for driving only on odd or even days.    

 

Luckily we were not jammed to a standstill on G110 but for several hours our speed was no more than 15 km an hour. Even if the road were wide open, we could not have gone any faster due to the completely damaged road conditions by coal trucks. On stretches of the highway we were virtually driving on asphalt balls and rubbles, an unexpected rough road test for our new cars!

 

Reportedly two new expressways are being built to alleviate the traffic situation. Until then, be prepared to be slowed, if not stopped completely on the Beijing-Tibet Expressway!

 

It was only after we entered Inner Mongolia when traffic finally eased and we were able to travel at expressway speed. But we were not able to make it to Baotao, our destination for the first day and had to stay overnight in Hohhot, capital of Inner Mongolia (to be continued).

 

Post a Comment(16)

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1. Lawrence Driscoll  write: (1/11/2012 9:52:44 AM)

Sounds like someone is getting a free ride bringing their product to market. Elsewhere, trucking companies pay dearly in taxes to ensure driveable road surfaces.

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