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They say money makes the world go round, but I have a sneaking suspicion that cars are actually doing the job. The number of vehicles on roads around the globe has skyrocketed over the past two decades despite a global pandemic and two recessions. So exactly how many cars are in the world?
Just 14 years ago, the number was estimated to be in the millions. Over that stretch of time, though, vehicle production has increased significantly, as has overall vehicle reliability. That has resulted in a lot more cars on the road, both new and old.
To put it simply, nobody has an exact car count for the entire globe, but a fair estimate can be made using data from automotive industry research firm Hedges & Company. The number of cars in the world is estimated to be around 1.47 billion vehicles.
You might think that the U.S. has the most cars in the world but that trophy actually goes to China, which is one of the largest automotive markets and producers. In fact, the country had around 415 million registered vehicles on the road as of 2022 and did a lot to help Asia win the crown for most vehicles on the road at 543 million.
Behind Asia is Europe, which houses 14 major automakers according to the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association. Europe has around 413 million cars on its roads, which surpasses North America's 358 million. And in case you were wondering, the U.S. makes up 78% of North America's car population.
The full list broken down by region is below:
- Asia: 543 million
- Europe: 413 million
- North America: 358 million
- South America: 84 million
- Middle East: 50 million
- Africa: 26 million
- Antarctica: 50 (approximately)
Now that you know how many cars exist on earth, how about the concentration of cars to people?
There are approximately 8.1 billion people living on Earth today, so there's one car for every ~5.75 people. That means that there are enough cars on the road for just 17% of the world's population. However, that doesn't mean that 17% of people own a car—that count doesn't take into consideration people who own multiple cars, children, the elderly, and other people who don't drive for a myriad of other reasons.
Despite China having such a large number of vehicles on the road, its 415 million only provides enough vehicles for one out of every 3.5 people living in the country, which totals a population of 1.43 billion residents. The remaining residents of Asia, however, bring the overall concentration of vehicles down quite a bit. When accounting for the rest of the continent, there are only 140 vehicles per 1,000 residents.
North America has the highest concentration with 710 vehicles per 1,000 people. The U.S. had about 278 million registered cars as of 2021, and the country spreads that number across its 331.9 million residents. This accounts for roughly one car on the street for every 1.2 people living in the country, or nearly three times more crowded than China.
The full list of vehicle concentration by region is below:
- North America: 710 vehicles per 1,000 people
- Europe: 520 vehicles per 1,000 people
- South America: 210 vehicles per 1,000 people
- Middle East: 190 vehicles per 1,000 people
- Asia: 140 vehicles per 1,000 people
- Africa: 58 vehicles per 1,000 people
- Antarctica: 50 vehicles per 1,000 people
The number of cars sold across the world is only increasing year over year and by a staggering amount. It's estimated that the number of cars on Earth today has increased by more than 56% since 2006. Despite the car market taking a global dip during COVID, it has already shown to be rebounding, even with high interest rates. If the trend keeps going in this direction, the number of vehicles could easily continue to climb over the next decade, perhaps crowning new list-toppers in both the number of cars and the concentration of car ownership.
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