China plans to ban petrol and diesel cars

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Xin said the ministry had started research and will look to draw up a timeline with relevant departments.

The comments are far from an explicit moratorium.

For all the eye-catching symbolism of a ban, it's unlikely that fossil fuel will soon be illegal on the roads.

"The implementation of the ban for such a big market like China can be later than 2040", said Liu Zhijia, an assistant general manager at Chery Automobile Co., the country's biggest passenger vehicle exporter that unveiled a new line for upscale battery-powered and plug-in hybrid models at the Frankfurt motor show last week. BYD Auto, for example, was the world's largest manufacturer of electrified vehicles previous year, though it could lose that crown to Tesla, now that the California-based company has launched its mainstream-priced Model 3 sedan.

As many as 800,000 charging stations will be built this year alone, according to the official China Daily. The document proposes requiring automakers to meet a new energy credit ratio of 8 percent in 2018, 10 percent in 2019, and 12 percent in 2020 to ease pressure on energy and environment.

Automakers "have not really tried hard in this sector" and consumers are not so familiar with new-energy vehicles, Cui said, though he predicted that the "impact will be big" when China decides to ban petrol vehicles.

As GTM has written in the past, falling battery prices are encouraging researchers to drastically revise projections for electric vehicle sales.

In 2015, Chinese motorists bought 336,000 electric and hybrid cars, representing 40 percent of global sales. However, the news boosted stocks in China's new energy auto firms.

Such a drastic pivot in a market as large as China's won't come without challenges.

"Enterprises should strive to improve the level of energy saving for traditional cars, and vigorously develop new energy vehicles according to assessment requirements", remarked Guobin.

While there is no estimated date, a senior figure in the country's largest passenger auto manufacturer, Chery Automobile, said the likelihood is that it will be sometime after 2040, to leave plenty of time for the company and others to prepare.

This truly puts the traditional auto industry on notice.