Economic Growth Will Be the Main Driver of Mobility in China in 2030

For Release

June 30, 2015

Continued economic growth will be the main driver of future mobility and automobile use in China, but constraints on vehicle use and environmental regulations will be important issues as well, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

With the rapid growth of the middle class and burgeoning population, researchers studied contributing factors that could either hinder or help the mobility situation in China, and discovered three driving forces that could have an impact.

These include the pace of economic growth, constraints imposed on vehicle ownership and use, and environmental conditions. Of these, by far the most critical is economic growth, according to the study.

Chinese policymakers must decide whether constraints that have curbed vehicle ownership should be maintained or strengthened, and decisions are also needed about whether environmental conditions will trigger the need for further regulations, said Liisa Ecola, lead author of the report and a transportation researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.

The potential for transportation policymakers to influence economic growth and environmental conditions may be limited, researchers say. However, they will have greater opportunity to use constraints on vehicle ownership and use to reduce the growth in travel demand, which is continually being spurred by the growing middle class.

Working with the German-based Institute for Mobility Research, RAND researchers developed two scenarios to simulate different mobility paths for China's future.

One assumed that continued economic growth will fuel demand for automobiles, including hybrids, but cities will also invest heavily in transit and other means of mobility. The second scenario assumes that the Chinese economy goes through a downturn marked by instability, and that future growth in travel demand is lower.

Ecola and her colleagues recommend that decisionmakers should anticipate and prepare for change, and they should use scenarios to help them determine opportunities, risks and contingencies for various possible futures.

The report, “The Future of Mobility: Scenarios for China in 2030,” can be found at Other study authors include Johanna Zmud, Kun Gu, Peter Phleps and Irene Feige.

Research for the study was sponsored by the Institute for Mobility Research and was conducted in the Transportation, Space, and Technology Program within the RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment division.

The mission of the division is to improve the development, operation, use and protection of society's essential physical assets and natural resources and to enhance the related social assets of safety and security of individuals in transit and in their workplaces and communities.

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