December 15, 2010
In an international comparison, the number of vehicles per inhabitant varies considerably between countries. As would be expected, it is substantially higher in the industrialised countries than in developing countries and emerging markets. With more than 800 vehicles per 1,000 inhabitants, the US ranks first by far among the large industrial nations. The countries of western Europe and Japan have similar rankings. On a global scale, the US, Europe and Japan currently account for roughly two-thirds of the total stock of motor vehicles, while their share in the world's population is less than one-fifth. Also remarkable is the fact that over the past few years the number of cars per inhabitant has risen only slightly in the developed countries mentioned above. This is a sign that these markets are gradually becoming saturated.
China and India are at the lower end of the list of large economies in terms of vehicle density. In the US, for instance, the ratio of cars to inhabitants is fifty times higher at present than in India. Nonetheless, the emerging markets are catching up quickly. The number of vehicles per capita in India, for instance, rose by more than 60% between 2004 and 2010, while China registered an increase in excess of 150% in the same period. The world's two most populous nations are very likely to see vehicle density double during the current decade. In absolute terms this would mean an increase in the combined stock of motor vehicles in China and India of more than 135 million units. This would correspond roughly to the current joint vehicle stock of Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium. Pent-up demand in China, India and other economically emerging nations thus opens up enormous growth potential for the global automobile industry. At the same time, it will present huge challenges for urban transport infrastructure in these countries and create ecological problems. Hence, pollution and CO2 emission levels must be reduced dramatically in future motor vehicles.