Automakers received an unexpected boost in August, when Asian sales surged thanks to variations on the American “cash for clunkers” scheme to encourage consumers to turn in old gas guzzlers and buy new, cleaner models. The US plan, you may recall, was designed in part to help rescue the American auto industry, but ended up doing more to boost sales of Japanese and Korean cars. So Tokyo decided in April to offer consumers rebates if they would also purchase new hybrid cars. And in June, China followed suit, offering even larger subsidies to consumers in five cities that bought more environmentally friendly cars.
More than just a plan to revive domestic auto sales, the moves are part of a broader shift among Asian policy makers from pursuing economic growth at all costs to promoting what is widely known as “green growth.” Asian governments used to focus almost exclusively on GDP growth as the barometer of policy success, but as rapid development creates growing environmental and social stresses, more policy makers are focusing on how to make their economies better, and not just bigger. Fast-growing economies in which citizens face crippling pollution and destabilizing disparities in income aren’t necessarily healthier economies. So governments are quickly bringing sustainable growth, once a rallying cry for non-governmental organizations, into the policy mainstream.