SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China will require all light vehicles to adhere to tougher new "China VI" emission standards by the middle of 2020, according to a notice published by environment regulators on Friday.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) said all sales and registrations of light vehicles will have to comply with the new standards - which are based on ones used in Europe and the United States - by July 1, 2020.
Cars will have to improve the catalytic converters, fuel injection and the structure of the engine's combustion chamber in order to meet the new standards, the ministry said.
All vehicles on China's roads are obliged to meet the previous China V emission standard by next year.
Northern China was engulfed in heavy smog this week, forcing as many as 24 cities to issue red alerts, close factories and cut the number of vehicles on the road.
According to a 2014 study by Beijing's environmental protection bureau, vehicle emissions were responsible for more than 30 percent of the city's concentrations of small, breathable particles known as PM2.5.
The MEP said the implementation of progressively stronger fuel standards since 2001 had reduced pollutants per vehicle unit by more than 90 percent.
The 34.6 million tonnes of carbon monoxide produced by automobiles last year amounted to 86.9 percent of total emissions of the gas, another smog component which is toxic to humans, said Liu Bingjiang, head of the MEP's Department of Atmospheric Environmental Management.
While China had been the world's biggest car producer since 2009, its technology remained lower than advanced international levels, and adopting tougher fuel standards would also help domestic producers raise their competitiveness, Liu added.
In remarks published on the MEP's website (www.mep.gov.cn), Liu said China's car ownership reached 170 million units by the end of 2015, including around 150 million light vehicles, with total emission volumes estimated at 45.3 million tonnes.
Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Christian Schmollinger