Source: US Department of Energy, Transportation Energy Data Book.
The last decades have experienced a growing level of motorization, as reflected by the production of automobiles and the fleet of registered cars. Although car production has a behavior linked with economic cycles of growth and recession, there is a continuous growth of the fleet, with an annual car production of about 34-40 million vehicles in the 1990s, well above 40 million in the 2000s, and surpassing 60 million in the 2010s. Recessions, such as in the early 1980s and 2008-09, are associated with notable drops in production since cars are consumer goods whose purchases can be delayed. The Covid-19 pandemic substantially impacted car production with a substantial decline in 2020 as manufacturing plants were disrupted and as the demand cratered.
By 2017, the number of registered automobiles exceeded 1 billion for the first time, twice 2000 figures and four times 1990 figures. While there are fluctuations in annual automobile production, the number of registration is steadily increasing. When car production drops, people keep their vehicles for longer durations. When car production increases, older vehicles are put out of circulation to be scrapped and recycled.
Globally, there are, on average, 8 people for every car in circulation. A significant share of car production growth is attributed to the motorization of developing countries, especially in East and Southeast Asia. In 2003, more than 2 million cars were sold in China alone, and this figure exploded to more than 9 million in 2008, 22 million in 2013, and 26 million in 2021. Comparatively, car sales in the United States, which used to be the world’s largest market, have stabilized at about 15 million per year.