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Common Projections

Although the overall focus of scenario planning is identifying alternative future developments, different scenarios often share some common projections. This can happen because the expert panel provides only one (relatively certain) projection for a specific descriptor or because the cluster analysis that underpins the scenario-building process determined that one projection would fit both scenarios. This section presents those projections that are common to both scenarios. Because their probabilities can be regarded as rather high, the value of these factors is significant.

We present the factors in this section from the standpoint of 2030.

Geographic Distribution of Population

The proportion of the Chinese population living in the eastern region has grown to just over 40 percent. This continues the previous trend, in which population has grown more quickly in the regions containing the cities with the greatest economic opportunities. The infrastructure is good, incomes are higher than in other parts of the country, and exports remain important, so it has been difficult to shift manufacturing activity westward, given that the ports are so well-developed in the east.


China continued urbanizing rapidly, from a base of about half the population living in urban areas in the early 2010s to about 70 percent doing so by 2030. The pace of growth in the urban population slowed from its previous rate of 4 percent annually, but the numbers kept rising as people continued to flock to urban areas for better job opportunities. The government encouraged this trend as it sought to steer the economy toward more consumption-based growth, which tends to require more urban consumers. China is now about where most developed countries stand with regard to urbanization; geographically large countries tend to top out at about 70 to 80 percent urbanized (United Nations, 2014).

The urbanization patterns differ slightly between the two scenarios. In the Great Reset, previous growth patterns have continued to swell the tier 1 and 2 cities even further, especially as reform of the hukou system gave migrants in those areas better access to schools, housing, and medical care. In Slowing but Growing, a higher proportion of urban growth has taken place in medium and smaller cities because the difference in wages between the larger and smaller cities is less pronounced and migrants are more likely to go to cities closer to their current residences.

Income Distribution

Income inequality, already high by world standards in the early 2010s, continued to increase. Rural populations were left behind in terms of economic growth, and unskilled labor had relatively little bargaining power given that people kept flocking to cities to work in factories. Although there have been attempts to reform a system that resulted in a small number of people being extraordinarily wealthy, the government has continued to rely on their support and the rich have continued to get richer. However, in the Great Reset, as a tighter labor market and better wage gains helped shift some bargaining power to employees, in addition to more public transparency, inequality peaked in 2025 and has declined modestly since, although still at levels higher than in the 2010s. In Slowing but Growing, the increase continues.

Domestic Vehicle Production

The domestic vehicle industry has grown in the past decade, but fairly consistently with overall economic growth. The industry has long been the world's largest, hardly surprising because China also remains the world's largest purchaser of vehicles. However, the industry has never sprinted past overall economic growth, in large part because a relatively small percentage of vehicles are exported. Therefore, domestic purchasing power limits the industry to some extent.

Greenhouse-Gas Emission Controls

By 2020, the central government had implemented fairly far-reaching policies designed to reduce GHG emissions. These began with pilot programs in the early 2010s and will be enshrined in the 13th five-year plan. The main mechanism is a carbon-trading market, which the government has backed up with subsidies to clean-energy technologies and requirements for each ministry. In terms of enforcement, provincial and local officials will be evaluated on their ability to meet emission-reduction targets (the same way they have long been evaluated on meeting economic growth targets). The push came from public demands for environmental cleanup, a realization that degraded environmental conditions were affecting quality of life and thus the party's legitimacy, a change in the attitudes of the business community, and a desire to be viewed as a leader in the international community.

Automobility Without Ownership

Over time, shared modes began to operate more effectively. Many Chinese cities had long harbored illegal taxis, but local governments began to bring them into the fold of regulated taxis through a combination of incentives and stiffer penalties. The actual number of taxis has remained roughly constant. In addition, car-sharing was introduced in quite a few cities and grew steadily in popularity. Although the intrinsic status of car ownership remained, car-sharing also gives people who cannot afford to own a car the ability to rent a luxury vehicle should the occasion require it.

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