China's State Council, or cabinet, has ordered all central government bodies to use "economic, energy-saving, environmentally friendly and domestically manufactured" automobiles and ban the private use of official cars.
"All units should tighten the regulation of cars and cut down the size of the fleet to a controlled scale. The number of automobiles should not be increased unless a new department is formed," said a circular issued earlier this week by the Government Office Administration of the State Council.
It said excess cars, or those violating pollution standards, should be removed from service by year-end.
The circular asked all officials to "strictly abide by" regulations on car use and be first movers in the use of domestic, low-emission, economic and manual-transmission cars.
"Except for special needs, all units, in principle, should not use off-road vehicles," it said.
The circular said departments could not purchase cars on their own without central government approval.
High-emission, heavy-pollution cars should be replaced before June 2008, the circular ordered.
Government departments were also told to use cars less often and more efficiently, use more public transport outside of Beijing, and avoid using official vehicles during festivals or large national events.
Official vehicles were not to be used in private business or leased for commercial purposes, the circular warned.
It also said that using seniority to gain the use of government cars owned by lower-level departments, or accepting vehicle donations from private enterprises, were both strictly banned.
The circular asked all departments to standardize driving rules to conserve gasoline, with a goal of cutting usage about 20 percent by the end of next year.
The tightening of the car regulations has stirred heated debate online.
A post at xinhuanet.com said the regulation should be "deepened into the grassroots level" and curtail the number of cars used at the local government level, where there was "rampant" use of official vehicles for private purposes.
"Detailed rules should ... specify the price range of official cars to reduce the overall cost and encourage the use of low-emission cars," another post says.
Most domestic-brand, low-emission cars are at the lower end of the price spectrum in China, the post said, adding that price restrictions could further curb "the harmful trend of more luxurious official saloon cars".