The explosive growth of car sales has authorities in a dilemma, with the booming market overshadowed by worsening pollution and an acute energy shortage. The government, worried about the impact of the automotive industry on the environment and oil consumption, is yet to find ways around a series of looming bottlenecks, experts say. 'The car has become a major source of urban pollution, which affects not only air quality, but also public health,' said Tang Dagang, director of the State Environmental Protection Administration's vehicle emissions control centre. However, recent moves to slow sales have failed to have the anticipated impact. Higher fuel prices also have done little to slow the rush to the roads, and the elimination of restrictions on vehicles with small engines early this year designed to ease worsening pollution and congestion has made little, if any, difference, according to Rao Da, general secretary of the National Passenger Vehicle Market Information Joint Meeting. Car makers sold 3.2 million passenger cars in 2005, up 27 per cent from the year before, while sales hit a monthly record 453,000 in April, state media reported. The recent sharp increase in consumption tax on larger passenger cars also has not deterred buyers. According to the State Council's development research centre, China had nearly 34 million cars by the end of last year, and expects 131 million by 2020. With sales, oil consumption also has soared. The sector, which already uses a third of the country's oil, will consume 138 million tonnes of oil by 2010, or 43 per cent of the total. And the situation will get even worse in 2020, when 57 per cent of the country's oil supply will be used by cars. Ouyang Minggao, a researcher with Tsinghua University's New Energy and Automobile Engineering Centre, warns that as oil use increases, emissions from vehicles will worsen global warming.The soaring number of cars also is hitting mainland cities, which are struggling to cope with filthy air and worsening traffic congestion. According to the country's top environmental watchdog, emissions from vehicles contribute up to 80 per cent of air pollution. The World Bank said six of the world's 10 most-polluted cities were on the mainland and health problems due to air pollution costs the nation billions of dollars a year. The government is moving to introduce car emission standards by 2008, but Mr Tang said: 'Experiences in Beijing and other cities show that it would be more effective if the government-led crackdown on cars failing emission standards is made as early and harshly as possible. 'But the supervision and control must be strengthened to address lack of law enforcement. Being soft on violators will only discourage those following the new standards and exacerbate pollution and over-consumption of fuel.' He said the authorities should consider economic incentives to promote the new emission standards rather than relying heavily on administrative orders. Zhao Hong, an economist at the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, disagreed, saying measures such as lifting consumption taxes and fuel prices would achieve only a temporary slowing of sales. He said that while energy-saving technologies would help reduce emissions and ease demand on fossil oil, they were not be the real cure to the problem either. 'Development of new, alternative energy is the most effective and important solution,' he said, suggesting that solar-powered and electric vehicles represented the future. The Ministry of Science and Technology had announced that nearly 5,000 cars, 1,100 mini-buses and 2,000 passenger buses powered by electricity would be used for the 2008 Olympic Games. However, according to Mr Zhao there are still major technological obstacles. 'Apart from technical difficulties, government attitude, whether encouraging new energy or supporting the interests of makers of high-consumption and pollutant cars, is even more critical,' said Mr Zhao. Professor Ouyang, an expert on electric vehicles, said the government had not done enough to encourage home-grown technologies, and spending should be increased on energy and environmental friendly vehicles. Mr Zhao added there was a great need to raise people's awareness of the environmental impact of cars. 'Owning a car for most Chinese is still regarded as a symbol of certain social status,' he said adding that sales would not be reduced by negative views held by scholars such as He Zuoxiu, a scientist from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Professor Zheng Yefu, of Peking University. Professor Zheng was among the first to question the policies boosting the car sector and his criticism sparked a high-profile debate in 1994.'Even if we don't consider concerns about energy shortage and pollution, mainland cities should not opt for the fully fledged development of cars because urban areas have become overcrowded due to the soaring number of vehicles,' said Professor Zheng. On a positive note, Beijing Olympic organisers have taken ambitious steps, such as introducing tighter emission standards, and investing more than 80 billion yuan to clean up the polluted air and improve the environment between 1998 and 2004. Alternative fuel, such as natural gas, has been used in buses and taxi. While Beijing reported improvements in its air quality, the country as a whole has repeatedly missed targets for reducing the levels of various pollutants Xinhua reported.