China offered discounts to entice people to spend money. It is not enough.

Four months ago, China’s leaders announced a seemingly simple and proven plan to revive the economy: subsidize consumers who want to replace old cars and home appliances.

The first results are not promising.

Only 113,000 cars qualified for trade-in subsidies through June 25 — a blip in a country where monthly sales exceed two million cars. And buyers of new appliances like washing machines and refrigerators get discounts of only about 10 percent, depending on the city they live in.

The incentives are not enough to attract customers to the stores.

“If it is not necessary, people will not go out of their way to find an old machine to join in,” said Dai Yu, the manager of a white goods store in Jingdezhen, a city in southern Jiangxi province. central China.

The idea of ​​offering financial incentives to stimulate consumer spending is not new.

In 2009, the United States, Germany, France, Spain and Austria offered so-called cash for clunkers programs to revive car sales. They paid households to scrap gas guzzlers and replace them with newer cars with better fuel economy. China itself has introduced extensive tax cuts and given consumers subsidies to buy new cars and home appliances. Prices for many appliances were halved, especially for rural residents, and sales soared.

The current strategy is hampered by severe eligibility restrictions and limited funding. As often happens, the Chinese central government has handed the device program almost entirely over to provincial and local governments, many of which are struggling with heavy debt and are reluctant to offer more generous subsidies. The central government, which has less debt, pays 60 percent of the cost of the auto subsidies.

So the efforts have not yet solved one of China’s biggest economic problems today: weak consumer spending. Factories have responded by chasing more customers abroad, but that has led to backlash and trade restrictions by governments in Europe, the United States and developing countries.

The weakness of the “cash for clunkers” program is clearly visible at an electric car factory and an air-conditioning compressor plant in Nanchang, the capital of Jiangxi.

The compressor factory’s assembly lines, a maze of yellow robots alternating with teams of blue-clad workers, run only one shift per day.

A few miles away, a money-losing electric car factory assembles fewer than 30,000 cars a year, even though it has the capacity to make 100,000.

Factories across China that make electric cars or home appliances are rushing to find export markets. For example, the Nanchang electric car factory ships about 3,000 cars abroad per year, but does so in unprofitably small batches to 30 countries.

Often, factories are partly or fully owned by local or provincial governments and need exports to keep their workers busy. And despite weak domestic sales, they are reluctant to lay off workers.

A housing market crash has left millions of Chinese families wary of big purchases. Yet the state-controlled banking system, acting under Beijing’s guidance, is lending hundreds of billions of dollars a year to build and expand factories.

Chinese carmakers have gone from selling almost no electric cars in Europe four years ago to about a quarter of their market this year. That success, along with evidence that China has subsidized its electric car industry, has prompted the European Union to impose tariffs on these imports.

European and Chinese officials agreed last month to hold talks to avoid tariffs, but the two sides remain far apart. European officials insist that China’s electric vehicle supply chain is subsidized. Chinese officials insist that there are no subsidies and that their industry’s growth is a reflection of innovation and production efficiency.

The plan to boost consumer spending with cash for clunkers has high-level political support. In March, Premier Li Qiang, China’s second-highest leader after President Xi Jinping, ordered local and provincial governments to promote “large-scale equipment upgrading and trade-in of old consumer goods.”

But debt-ridden local governments have not put enough money into the programs. The national government has been reluctant to help. As a result, the rebates offered to consumers have ranged from modest to meager.

Luo Yu, an office worker in Jingdezhen, walked out of Mr. Dai’s store empty-handed recently evening, unimpressed by the 10 percent discount. “Why would you replace them if they’re not broken?” she asked.

Subsidies for electric cars are hardly more generous. Most cars must be at least 13 years old to be eligible for replacement. Only about 10 million of the country’s 250 million registered cars qualify.

Owners of old cars will receive a subsidy of $1,380 — a tenth or less of the cost of all but the cheapest cars — if they trade them in for a new, battery-electric or plug-in hybrid car. The subsidy is $960 if they trade in an old, heavily polluting car for a new model with a small gasoline engine that meets the latest emissions standards.

By comparison, the United States offered subsidies of $4,500 per car in 2009. That cash-for-clunkers program was so popular that General Motors, Ford Motor Company and other automakers increased factory production and recalled some idle workers.

Chinese automakers and banks are also offering discounts and loans to boost sales. But industry leaders acknowledged that many car buyers were not enthusiastic.

“Consumers are still reluctant to trade in their cars for the time being,” said Cui Dongshu, secretary general of the China Passenger Car Association. “It will be a gradual process.”

Xu Xingfeng, director of the consumer promotion department of the Ministry of Commerce, said at a news conference last week that the pace of car trade-in “showed an accelerating growth trend.”

Sales of battery electric cars and plug-in hybrid cars are increasing in China. But that increase is offset by a decline in sales of gasoline-powered cars. Total car sales in China changed little in May compared to the same month last year.

Appliance sales have been fairly strong this spring, but not enough to keep up with factory production. Manufacturers with excess capacity are cutting prices to compete, part of a broad decline in many prices in China. They find customers abroad: the number of exported devices increased by 27 percent in May compared to a year earlier.

With cash for clunkers, the government is pushing consumers to buy from big manufacturing companies. But in cities like Jingdezhen, a center of pottery for more than 1,000 years, there’s evidence that Chinese consumers would spend more if the government gave them cash instead and let them choose how to spend it.

Thousands of young people, including many recent graduates facing a very difficult job market, throng Jingdezhen’s 31-hectare open-air pottery market. They spend a lot of time, but little money.

Wang Yajun has long been selling hand-painted figurines of Chinese gods at her stand. She now also paints and sells cheaper refrigerator magnets.

“People find it difficult to accept products with higher prices,” she said. “Cheap products may perform better.”

Do you contributed to research.

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