In Lhasa, capital of Tibet Autonomous Region, one out of every 23 residents owns a car, according to the city's vehicle administration, 5.6 times higher than the national average of one private car for every 130 people.
By the end of September, 420,000-person city reported nearly 18,000 private cars, said Hu Lianying, an official with the vehicle administration of the city's public security bureau. This is a twofold increase over the 1999 figure, he said.
Tibetan herb merchant Norbu Cering spent 40,000 yuan (US$4,800) on a Chang'an Alto. "We're all better-off these days. Just a few years ago, we had to budget very carefully even to buy a bike," he said.
Chang'an Alto is one of the more affordable cars for ordinary citizens, Norbu said. "Of course the new rich would prefer an Audior a Honda, but most people are happy enough with a Geely, a Sail,a Jetta or a Santana."
Cars are believed to have first appeared in Tibet in 1928, when the 13th Dalai Lama imported two from India. As there were no modern roads on which to drive the cars, they were dismantled into spare parts to be taken to Tibet on horseback for reassembly.
In the mid-1990s, Lhasa had a total of just 8,000 motor vehicles. The number has climbed to 40,000 over the past decade. Nearly 40 auto retailers have settled down in the emerging market.
statistics show the per-capita disposable income of urban residents in Tibet averaged 8,058 yuan (about 970 US dollars)in 2003, 300 yuan (36 US dollars) more than the year before.
But experts warn that Tibet's urban roads, which add up to merely 130 km, are already congested and many citizens have started to complain about lack of parking and excessive pollution.
"As the city itself has little space for expansion, it might be better to restrict the number of private cars and expand the public transportation network instead," said a social worker in Lhasa.
(Xinhua News Agency November 19, 2004)