|Worldwide light-duty vehicle production. Source: Worldwatch. Click to enlarge.|
Production of light-duty passenger vehicles (cars and light trucks) rose from 74.4 million in 2010 to 76.8 million in 2011, and 2012 may bring an all-time high of 80 million or more vehicles, according to new research conducted by the Worldwatch Institute for its Vital Signs Online service. Hybrids remain below 2% of total vehicle output.
Global sales of passenger vehicles increased from 75.4 million to 78.6 million over the same period, with a projected 81.8 million in 2012, writes report author and Worldwatch Senior Researcher Michael Renner. The major driver of increased production and sales are the emerging economies, especially China.
The auto industry’s production capacities are far from fully used; PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) estimates current global vehicle assembly capacity at almost 95 million, the report notes. Auto manufacturing capacity continues to grow, and annual output could reach the 100 million mark by 2016.
Rising sales translate into an ever-expanding global vehicle parc. An estimated 691 million passenger cars were on the world’s roads in 2011. When both light- and heavy-duty trucks are included, the number rises to 979 million vehicles—30 million more than just a year earlier. By the end of 2012, the global fleet could top 1 billion vehicles—one for every seven people on the planet.
Electric vehicle (EV) production remains at barely perceptible levels, according to the report. Although several countries have issued targets for future EV fleets, it remains to be seen whether these goals can be met.
China, for instance, wants to put 5 million plug-in hybrid-electric and fully electric vehicles on its roads by 2020, which could account for more than 40% of the global EV fleet that year. An analysis by Deutsche Bank Climate Advisors, however, suggests that production of 1.1 million EVs and a fleet of 3.5 million in China is a more realistic projection.
Automobiles are major contributors to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Greater fuel efficiency, along with the use of cleaner fuels, can help mitigate these impacts, although increases in the numbers of cars and the distances driven threaten to overwhelm fuel economy advances.—Michael Renner
Fuel efficiency has been improving in all the major car nations over the past decade, with stricter consumption limits for coming years enacted or proposed.
- Japan and the European Union (EU) continue to be the global leaders.
- South Korea has improved its fuel economy by one third since 2003.
- China is considering a limit of 5 l/100 km (47 mpg US) for 2020 that would bring it close to Japan’s 4.5 l/100 km (52.3 mpg US) for 2020.
- The United US, Canada, and Australia are making progress, but nonetheless continue to lag behind. E.g., the 2025 CAFE/GHG limits in the US would be similar to what Japan already requires for 2015.
Discussions about reducing the environmental impacts of vehicles tend to focus on technical improvements, such as engines, aerodynamic design, and fuels, yet another concern is the distances traveled. Even though the United States has just 25% of the total population of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations, in 2008 it alone accounted for just above 40% of the 10.3 trillion passenger-kilometers driven in all OECD member countries. Still, US car travel is down slightly from its peak of 4.3 trillion passenger kilometers (pkm) in 2005, to 4.1 trillion pkm in 2008.
The Chinese are increasingly taking to the roads, with driving distances rising from 262 billion pkm in 1990 to 1.351 trillion pkm in 2009, slightly more than a fivefold expansion.
On a per capita basis, people in OECD countries drive about 8,500 kilometers in private cars annually. People in Canada (14,600 km) and the United States (13,500 km) drive greater distances than people in Europe (an average of just over 11,000 km in the four largest European countries). In Japan, the average driver covers only about 6,400 km, while in China, the average distance per person works out to a much shorter 1,000 km.
Further highlights from the report include:
The passenger vehicle fleet in China grew at an annual average rate of 25% during 2000-11, from fewer than 10 million cars to 73 million cars.
The top four producers of light vehicles—China, the United States, Japan, and Germany—together account for more than half of global output. China consolidated its lead, manufacturing 17.3 million light vehicles in 2011, with 2012 output projected to reach 18.4 million.
Car travel in non-OECD countries doubled between 1975 and 2000, but it then picked up pace by doubling again in just the decade to 2010.