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Politics

South Korea to quadruple car-charging stations

South Korean Environmental Minister Yoon Seong-kyu spoke with The Nikkei regarding the country's environmental protection efforts.

SEOUL -- South Korea hopes to quadruple the number of public rapid-charge stations in the country to 1,400 by 2020 to make electric vehicles more attractive, part of efforts to limit carbon emissions and air pollution.

     Having more charging stations is critical in encouraging consumers to buy electric cars because those vehicles cannot travel as far on one charge as a conventional vehicle on one tank of gasoline, Yoon Seong-kyu, South Korea's environmental minister, told The Nikkei.

     South Korea currently provides subsidies of up to 6 million won ($5,247) toward the price of new charging stations and construction costs. That amount will be cut to 4 million won in 2016, but Seoul will increase the total pool of funds to try to accelerate the spread of chargers.

     The government also looks to expand South Korea's network of hydrogen stations for fuel cell vehicles. Only 10 stations exist nationwide. Further considerations for electric, fuel cell and other green cars are being discussed, such as waiving highway tolls and granting permission to use bus lanes.

Pending shift

Sales of electric cars, fuel cell vehicles and gasoline-electric hybrids have been low in South Korea. Only 160,000 alternative autos were on the roads here at the end of 2014, a government-affiliated research center said, far fewer than in Japan or the U.S.

     But that could change. In light of the scandal in which Volkswagen was found to have cheated on emissions tests, the government is conducting its own tests on six diesel models from the German automaker and subsidiary Audi. Depending on the results of this investigation, Seoul could shut down sales of the cars or impose other penalties, such as a fine of up to 1 billion won per vehicle, Yoon said. Results are due out Thursday.

     The government plans to inspect diesel vehicles from other manufacturers for similar irregularities. Reports that VW has cheated on emissions tests for gasoline vehicles have also surfaced recently. But Seoul is focusing on diesel vehicles now, Yoon said.

     Roughly 40% of registered vehicles in South Korea run on diesel, making the country the banner market for the technology outside of Europe. The market share of diesel cars has grown rapidly over the past several years as European autos have boomed in popularity. But the number of VW vehicles newly registered in October fell by nearly half from the year-earlier period. The brand's share, including Audi, has fallen to second place among imports, and it could slip further when the probe's results are revealed.

Joint measures

Micron-level particulate matter and other air pollution have long posed an issue in East Asia. Because South Korea, China and Japan sit within a single "environmental sphere," joint measures are needed to address those problems, Yoon said. The nations look to team on mechanisms to share atmospheric data, improve the accuracy of pollution forecasts and otherwise combat the threat.

     South Korea in January opened a carbon-emissions trading system encompassing the nation's largest companies. Parties can check in March 2016 whether they kept emissions within permitted levels. It is thus only natural that trading on the system remains slow, Yoon said. Some companies, including Japanese firms, are suing the government, claiming their carbon allotments are too low. But Seoul has no reason to raise those caps in response to the lawsuit, Yoon said, supporting the current system.

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