BEIJING -- China has accused more than 20 additional carmakers, including Nissan Motor and Hyundai Motor, of breaking rules on green-car subsidies, according to a state media report, widening a scandal over a $4.5 billion annual payout program.
On Thursday, China's Ministry of Finance punished at least five carmakers, accusing them of cheating its program to promote electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, receiving roughly 1 billion yuan ($150 million) in illegal subsidies.
"This is a major blow to the industry and also has a large impact on the country's policy enforcement," Xu Yanhua, a vice secretary for the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers told a news briefing.
The ministry said it would revoke the production license of Suzhou Gemsea Coach Manufacturing, while the other four firms would be fined. The companies named included a subsidiary of Chery Holding, owner of the seventh most popular Chinese passenger car brand.
The scandal has cast a pall over China's drive to use subsidies to combat heavy pollution which affects large swathes of the country. This drive helped sales of electric and plug-in hybrids more than quadruple last year to 331,000 vehicles.
China's official Securities Daily newspaper reported today that there was a list of an additional 20 companies who were also found to have committed violations.
These include Nissan, Hyundai, Geely, Anhui Jianghuai Automobile (JAC Motor) and a subsidiary of BYD.
Nissan did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A Hyundai spokeswoman said the company was "checking with the relevant internal departments" and would respond with comment as soon as possible. Geely declined to comment.
A BYD spokeswoman said the firm had not received any official notification from authorities. "Right now we do not have any idea where the suspected list is coming from."
A spokesman for JAC Motor, which this week announced it was exploring a potential joint venture focused on electric vehicles with Volkswagen Group, said the firm did not have an immediate comment.
The subsidy cheating investigation is another blow to China achieving a full-year sales target of 700,000 electric and plug-in hybrid cars, said Yale Zhang, managing director of consultancy Automotive Foresight. Only 245,000 such cars were sold in the first eight months, according to China's automakers association.
China spent $4.5 billion last year in subsidies for such vehicles, although it is set to gradually phase out the payments by 2021.