China is known for having some of the worst air pollution in the world, due in part to years of lax emission regulations covering factories as well as vehicles in the world's largest new-car market.

But China is about to implement much tougher emissions standards—and sooner than carmakers expected.

A new set of regulations originally set to be implemented in 2020 will now begin rolling out next year.

DON'T MISS: Beijing Smog So Severe It Requires Headlights At Noon (Dec 2015)

These tougher emissions standards will be implemented first in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai, and then spread to other areas in stages beginning in 2018, according to Nikkei Asian Review.

Called "National VI," the new standards are intended to be equivalent to the "Euro 6" emissions standards implemented in Europe last year.

The final part of that European standard, taking effect next January, includes standards for diesel-exhaust emissions roughly equivalent to the "Tier 2, Bin 5" standards that have applied to diesel cars in the U.S. since 2008—but the overall carbon-emission levels are much lower than those in the States.

Beijing smog

Beijing smog

China's Ministry of Environmental Protection and other relevant government bodies hope to produce a detailed plan for the accelerated rollout of National VI standards by the end of the year.

In addition, less-strict "National V" standards—equivalent to older "Euro 5" rules—will be introduced in rural areas beginning in 2017.

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While it works to enact those standards, the government is also looking into still more ways to reduce pollution from cars and trucks.

It is studying California's zero-emission vehicle mandate, which requires carmakers that reach certain sales levels to sell quotas of electric cars or hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.

China has generous incentives in place for electric cars, plug-in hybrids, and fuel-cell vehicles, but so far hasn't compelled manufacturers to build them.

Ford Mustang in China

Ford Mustang in China

The current incentive program is set to expire in 2021, but the government is looking for alternative means to stimulate the electric-car market.

The government also plans to require carmakers to achieve a fuel-economy fleet average of 47 mpg by 2020, as measured on the country's own testing standard.

MORE: China Emission Standards: So Tough Honda Will Have All Hybrids By 2025 (Dec 2015)

Given these new rules and "societal factors around air pollution," China will become the toughest regulatory regime in the world over the next five years, Ford CEO Mark Fields told The Detroit News and other media ahead of the 2016 Beijing Auto Show.

Honda has said the 47-mpg standard alone will require it to sell only hybrids in China by 2025.

[hat tip: Brian Henderson]


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