Beijing is taking a big step that it hopes will cut its notorious air pollution.

China's capital will slash car-sales quotas by 40 percent next year, Reuters reports.

Over the next four years, Beijing will issue just 150,000 new license plates per year, down from the current rate of 240,000 plates per year.

That means Beijing's new passenger vehicle sales will be capped at 600,000 units over the next four years. That's lower than the number of new vehicle sold in 2010 alone.

The government will also reportedly reserve a high percentage of new license plates for "new-energy" vehicles, primarily plug-in electric cars.

Beijing Smog by Flickr user michaelhenley

Beijing Smog by Flickr user michaelhenley

The number of plates reserved for these vehicles will triple from 20,000 in 2014 to 60,000 in 2017; they will account for 40 percent of that year's quota.

(That could boost the popularity of the Tesla Model S luxury electric car; Tesla Motors expects to deliver its first Model S in the country next February, according to CEO Elon Musk during the company's quarterly earnings call.)

The Chinese government is already subsidizing these vehicles to encourage consumer commitment to electrification.

Beijing's previous pollution-control measures have included a pollution tax, and a pledge to remove 180,000 of the worst-polluting vehicles from city streets.

Beijing isn't the first Chinese city to restrict car ownership to control pollution: Earlier this year Shijiazhuang, the capital city of the steel-producing Hebei province that surrounds Beijing, decided to limit car sales.

The city decided to limit the number of new cars to 100,000 in 2013, and 90,000 by 2015. Households are restricted to two cars, and eligibility for a new-car purchase is determined by lottery.

Chinese cities have been heavily affected by pollution, primarily caused by industry, vehicle traffic, and the use of coal-burning heaters in winter.

The pollution is particularly heavy in PM2.5s--microscopic particulate matter that is hazardous to human health.


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