Motor vehicle

The United States has the world's largest registered fleet of motor vehicles, with over 250 million vehicles as of 2014

A motor vehicle, also known as motorized vehicle, is a self-propelled vehicle, commonly wheeled, that does not operate on rails (such as trains or trams) and is used for the transportation of people or cargo.

The vehicle propulsion is provided by an engine or motor, usually an internal combustion engine or an electric motor, or some combination of the two, such as hybrid electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. For legal purposes, motor vehicles are often identified within a number of vehicle classes including cars, buses, motorcycles, off-road vehicles, light trucks and regular trucks. These classifications vary according to the legal codes of each country. ISO 3833:1977 is the standard for road vehicle types, terms and definitions.[1] Generally, to avoid requiring handicapped persons from having to possess an operator's license to use one, or requiring tags and insurance, powered wheelchairs will be specifically excluded by law from being considered motor vehicles.

As of 2010, there were more than one billion motor vehicles in use in the world, excluding off-road vehicles and heavy construction equipment.[2][3][4] Global vehicle ownership per capita in 2010 was 148 vehicles in operation per 1000 people.[4] The United States has the largest fleet of motor vehicles in the world, with 258 million in 2014.[5] Vehicle ownership per capita in the US is also the highest in the world, with 769 vehicles in operation per 1000 people.[4] The People's Republic of China has the second largest fleet in the world, with slightly more than 78 million vehicles, and in 2009 became the world's largest new car market.[3][4][6] In 2011, a total of 80 million cars and commercial vehicles were built, led by China, with 18.4 million motor vehicles manufactured.[7]

Ownership trends

The US publisher Ward's estimates that as of 2010, there were 1.015 billion motor vehicles in use in the world. This figure represents the number of cars, trucks (light, medium and heavy duty), and buses, but does not include off-road vehicles or heavy construction equipment. The world vehicle population passed the 500 million-unit mark in 1986, from 250 million motor vehicles in 1970. Between 1950 and 1970, the vehicle population doubled roughly every 10 years.[2][3][4] Two US researchers estimate that the world's fleet will reach 2 billion motor vehicles by 2020, with cars representing at least 50% of all vehicles. China’s and India’s automobile fleets are expected to grow at an annual rate of around 7 or 8%, while the slowest growth is expected in the United States, with less than 1% a year, and Western Europe, with 1 to 2%.[2] Navigant Consulting forecasts that the global stock of light-duty motor vehicles will reach 2 billion units in 2035.[8]

Global vehicle ownership in 2010 was 148 vehicles in operation per 1000 inhabitants, a ratio of 1:6.75 vehicles to people, slightly down from 150 vehicles per 1000 inhabitants in 2009, a rate of 1:6.63 vehicles to people.[4] The global rate of motorization increased in 2013 to 174 vehicles per 1000 inhabitants.[9] In developing countries vehicle ownership rates rarely exceed 200 cars per 1,000 population.[10]

The following table summarizes the evolution of vehicle registrations in the world from 1960 to 2012:

Historical trend of worldwide vehicle registrations
1960-2012 (thousands)[11][12][13][5]
Type of vehicle 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2005 2009 2010 2012 2014
Car registrations(1) 98,305 193,479 320,390 444,900 548,558 617,914 684,570 723,567 774,145 884,382
Truck and bus registrations 28,583 52,899 90,592 138,082 203,272 245,798 295,115 309,395 341,235 323,623
World total 126,888 246,378 410,982 582,982 751,830 863,712 979,685 1,032,962 1,115,380 1,208,005
Note (1) Car registrations do not include U.S. light trucks (SUVs, minivan and pickups) that are used for personal travel. These vehicles are accounted among trucks.

European Union

The 27 European Union (EU-27) member countries had a fleet of over 256 million in 2008, and passenger cars accounted for 87% of the union's fleet. The five largest markets, Germany (17.7%), Italy (15.4%), France (13.3%), the UK (12.5%), and Spain (9.5%), accounted for 68% of the region's total registered fleet in 2008.[14][15] The EU-27 member countries had in 2009 an estimated ownership rate of 473 passenger cars per 1000 people.[16]

According to Ward's, Italy had the second highest (after the U.S.) vehicle ownership per capita in 2010, with 690 vehicles per 1000 people.[4] Germany had a rate of motorization of 534 vehicles per 1000 people and the UK of 525 vehicles per 1000 inhabitants, both in 2008. France had a rate of 575 vehicles per 1000 people and Spain 608 vehicles per 1000 people in 2007.[17] Portugal, between 1991 and 2002 grew up 220% on its motorization rate, having had in 2002, 560 cars per 1000 people.[18] Italy also leads in alternative fuel vehicles, with a fleet of 779,090 natural gas vehicles as of June 2012, the largest NGV fleet in Europe.[19] Sweden, with 225,000 flexible-fuel vehicles, has the largest flexifuel fleet in Europe by mid-2011.[20]

United States

Historical evolution of
vehicle ownership rates in the U.S.
(Selected years 1900–2009)[21]
Year Veh. per
1000 people
Year Veh. per
1000 people
Year Veh. per
1000 people
1900 0.11 1940 245.63 1980 710.71
1905 0.94 1945 221.80 1990 773.40
1910 5.07 1950 323.71 2000 800.30
1920 86.78 1960 410.37 2007 843.57
1930 217.34 1970 545.35 2009 828.04

According to Ward's, the United States has the largest fleet of motor vehicles in the world, with 239.8 million by 2010. Vehicle ownership per capita in the U.S. is also the highest in the world with 769 vehicles in operation per 1000 inhabitants, or a ratio of 1:1.3 vehicles to people.[4] The U.S. Department of Energy reports an even higher motorization rate of 828 vehicles per 1000 people, and a total of 245,441,000 vehicles by 2009. According to USDoE, the rate of motorization peaked in 2007 at 842.6 vehicles per 1000 people.[21] In terms of licensed drivers, as of 2009 the country had 1.0 vehicle for every licensed driver, and 1.87 vehicles per household.[22]

The stock of alternative fuel vehicles in the United States includes almost 10 million E85 flexible-fuel vehicles,[23] the world's second largest after Brazil, but actual use of ethanol fuel is significantly limited due to the lack of E85 refueling infrastructure.[24] The fleet of hybrid electric vehicles in the United States is the largest in the world, with more than 3.0 million units by October 2013.[25] The country's fleet also includes 123,000 natural gas vehicles as of July 2012, mainly transit buses and delivery fleets.[19] Despite its relative small size, natural gas use accounted for about 52% of all alternative fuels consumed by alternative transportation fuel vehicles in the U.S. in 2009.[26]

In the US a motor vehicle is specifically defined as a contrivance used for commercial purposes. As defined in US Code 18 U.S.C. § 31 : US Code - Section 31: Definitions (6) Motor vehicle. - The term "motor vehicle" means every description of carriage or other contrivance propelled or drawn by mechanical power and used for commercial purposes on the highways in the transportation of passengers, passengers and property, or property or cargo.


The People's Republic of China became the world's largest new car market in 2009

The People's Republic of China has the second largest fleet in the world, with slightly more than 78 million vehicles, overtaking Japan in 2010.[3][4] About 13.6 million vehicles were sold in 2009, and motor vehicle registrations in 2010 increased to more than 16.8 million units, representing nearly half the world’s fleet increase in 2010.[3][4]

The number of cars and motorcycles in China increased 20 times between 2000 and 2010.[27] This explosive growth has allowed China to become the world's largest new car market, overtaking the US in 2009.[3][6] Nevertheless, ownership per capita is 58 vehicles per 1000 inhabitants, or a ratio of 1:17.2 vehicles to people, well below the rate of motorization of developed countries.[4]


Japan had 73.9 million vehicles by 2010, and had the world's second largest motor vehicle fleet until 2009.[4] With more than 1.1 million hybrid electric vehicles, Japan has the second largest hybrid fleet in the world after the US.[28]


The Brazilian vehicle fleet reached 64.8 million vehicles in 2010, up from 29.5 million units in 2000, representing a 119% growth in ten years, and reaching a motorization rate of 340 vehicles per 1000 people.[29] In 2010 Brazil experienced the second largest fleet increase in the world after China, with 2.5 million vehicle registrations.[4]

As of October 2013, Brazil has the largest alternative fuel vehicle fleet in the world with over 27 million alternative fuel motor vehicles in the road. The clean vehicle stock includes 20 million flexible-fuel cars and light utility vehicles by June 2013;[30] over 3 million flex-fuel motorcycles by October 2013;[31] between 2.4 and 3.0 million neat ethanol vehicles still in use,[32][33] out of 5.7 million ethanol only light-vehicles produced since 1979;[34] and, as of December 2012, a total of 1.69 million natural gas vehicles.[19] In addition, all the Brazilian gasoline-powered fleet is designed to operate with high ethanol blends, up to 25% ethanol fuel (E25).[citation needed]


India’s vehicle fleet had the second-largest growth rate after China in 2010, with 8.9%. The fleet went from 19.1 million in 2009 to 20.8 million units in 2010.[4] India's vehicle fleet has increased to 210 million in March 2015.[35] India has a fleet of 1.1 million natural gas vehicles as of December 2011 .[19]


As of January 2011, the Australian motor vehicle fleet had 16.4 million registered vehicles, with an ownership rate of 730 motor vehicles per 1000 people, up from 696 vehicles per 1000 residents in 2006. The motor vehicle fleet grew 14.5% since 2006, for an annual rate of 2.7% during this five-year period.[36]

Comparison by regions

The following table compares vehicle ownership rates by region with the US, the country with the highest motorization rate in the world, and how it has evolved from 1999 to 2009.

Comparison of motorization rates by region
1999 and 2009
(vehicles per 1000 people)[37]
Country/Region 1999 2009
Africa 20.9 24.9
Asia, Far East 39.1 157.7
Asia, Middle East 66.2 101.2
Canada 560.0 620.9
Central and South America 133.6 169.7
Eastern Europe 370.0 363.9
Western Europe 528.8 583.3
Oceania 513.9 560.9
United States 790.07 828.04
Other Languages
Bân-lâm-gú: Tōng-le̍k-chhia
Deutsch: Kraftfahrzeug
Esperanto: Motorveturilo
한국어: 모터 비클
hrvatski: Motorno vozilo
Bahasa Indonesia: Kendaraan bermotor
isiZulu: Imoto
italiano: Autoveicolo
magyar: Gépjármű
македонски: Моторно возило
Bahasa Melayu: Kenderaan bermotor
Nederlands: Motorvoertuig
română: Autovehicul
slovenčina: Motorové vozidlo
српски / srpski: Моторна возила
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Motorna vozila
svenska: Motorfordon
Türkçe: Motorlu taşıt
中文: 機動車輛