CORRECTED-China imposes strict fuel economy standards on auto industry

Wed Mar 20, 2013 10:56pm EDT

(In March 20 story, corrects organisation and title of analyst in paragraph 3)

BEIJING, March 20 (Reuters) - China imposed long-debated stringent fuel economy standards on Wednesday, making life tougher for cash-strapped small domestic brands that are already struggling amid a slowdown of the world's biggest auto market.

The rules, jointly issued by five government bodies including the National Development and Reform Commission, would cut passenger cars' average fuel consumption to 6.9 litres per 100 kilometers by 2015 and down further to 5.0 litres by 2020.

"That's going to be tough for everyone, especially those small players as they will have to use more fuel-efficient engines and invest in hybrid technologies," said Yale Zhang, head of Shanghai-based industry consultancy Automotive Foresight.

China's latest passenger car fuel consumption data was not immediately available. It stood at 7.8 litres per 100 kilometers in 2009 and 8.2 litres in 2008, said John Zeng, Asia Pacific director of consultancy LMC Automotive.

The new rules come at a time when environmental complaints have sparked unrest and even riots in some parts of the country.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pledged on Sunday that his government would show even greater resolve in tackling China's pollution crisis. (Reporting by Fang Yan and Norihiko Shirouzu; Editing by Helen Massy-Beresford)