International trade in motor vehicles

Data from June 2017. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update June 2018

The car industry is of prime importance to the economy of the European Union (EU) and plays a major role in international trade. New and used motor vehicles accounted for 11.0 % of the total value of extra-EU exports in 2016, but only 4.5 % of the total value of extra-EU imports.

This article describes the development of trade in motor vehicles both within the EU (intra-EU trade) and outside of the EU (extra-EU trade). It shows that the United States is the EU's main trading partner and that among EU Member States, Germany is the leading exporter of motor vehicles.

Figure 1: EU and other major players in world-wide trade in motor vehicles, 2013 and 2016
(EUR million) - Sources: Eurostat - Comext and UN Comtrade
Table 1: Extra EU-28 trade in motor vehicles, 2013-2016 (EUR million) - Source: Eurostat - Comext
Figure 2: Extra EU-28 trade in motor vehicles, main trading partners' shares for exports, 2013 and 2016
(%) - Source: Eurostat - Comext
Figure 3: Extra EU-28 trade in motor vehicles, main trading partners' shares for imports, 2013 and 2016.png
(%) - Source: Eurostat - Comext
Table 2: Extra EU-28 trade in motor vehicles, by category, 2013-2016 (EUR million) - Source: Eurostat - Comext

Main statistical findings

In 2016, the EU exported motor vehicles worth EUR 192.0 billion. Imports in that same year amounted to 40 % of that value (EUR 77.0 billion), giving an EU trade surplus of EUR 128.2 billion.

The value of extra-EU exports of motor vehicles increased by an average of 2 % per year between 2013 and 2016. During the same period, extra-EU imports grew at a much faster pace, at an average 14 % per year.

In 2016, the United States remained the main destination of EU's motor vehicles exports (25 % of the total), well ahead of China (16 %). Together with Turkey (7 %), Switzerland and Japan (both 5 %) they accounted for more than half of the EU external market.

Over half of all extra-EU motor vehicles imports in 2016 came from Turkey (20 %), Japan (19 %) and the United States (14 %).

Within the motor vehicles category (which includes lorries, road tractors, motorcycles, trailers and motor-vehicle parts), motor cars represented 65 % of extra-EU exports and 50 % of extra-EU imports in 2016. Parts and accessories of motor vehicles had a share of 22 % and 27 % respectively.

Germany was responsible for over half (53 %) of total extra-EU motor vehicles exports in 2016. With EUR 83 billion Germany also had the largest trade surplus in the EU.

At the same time, Germany was also the largest importer of motor vehicles in 2016; about a quarter of the total value of extra-EU imports can be ascribed to Germany.

Trading partners

In 2016, the United States remained the number one partner for extra-EU exports (see Figure 2) with a share of 25 % (close to EUR 48 billion). China was the second export market for EU motor vehicles (16 %) followed by Turkey (7 %), Switzerland and Japan (both 5 % ). Between 2013 and 2016, the largest changes in shares were observed for the United States (+5 percentage points) and Russia (-5 percentage points).

In 2014, the EU imported more motor vehicles from Turkey than from Japan which had been the largest partner since then. Although Turkey's share only grew slightly from 18 % in 2013 to 20 % in 2016, in absolute terms imports increased from EUR 9.5 to 15.3 billion. In the same period, EU imports from Japan in absolute terms grew somewhat less, from EUR 10.6 to 14.5 billion which led to a drop of Japan's share from 21 % to 19 %. In 2016, the United States (14 %), South Korea (10 %) and China (8 %) were the third, fourth and fifth largest partners from which the EU imported motor vehicles, remaining at the respective ranks since 2013.

It should be noted that exports and imports relate to production within the corresponding country, regardless of the nationality of the factory.

Contributions of Member States

Looking at the trade in motor vehicles by individual Member State (see Table 1), Germany alone was responsible for well over half (53 %) of the EU total exports in 2016. The United Kingdom, ranking second, registered a little less than a quarter of the German export value with a share of 13 %. In relative terms, i.e. compared to their total extra-EU trade, exports of motor vehicles from Germany represented 20% of their total trade. This share was only surpassed by Slovakia (43 %).

Annual average growth of EU exports of motor vehicles was 2 % between 2013 and 2016. About half of the EU Member States showed an increase of motor vehicles exports. Annual average growth rates were particularly high in Croatia (+41 %) and Slovenia (+22 %) although their shares remain of minor importance. Cyprus (+18 %) had the third largest growth rate. There were three countries whose exports dropped more than 10 % since 2013: Portugal (-11 %), Greece (-20 %) and Lithuania (-36 %).

With a trade value of EUR 19.4 billion in 2016, Germany’s share in total EU imports of motor vehicles was the most significant (25 % of the EU imports), followed by Belgium (14 %), the United Kingdom (12 %) and Italy (10 %). Between 2013 and 2016 imports of motor vehicles increased in all but two countries (Croatia and Latvia). German imports displayed an average annual increase of 16 %. Cyprus stood out as the Member State where imports have experienced the most noticeable relative increase (+41 % per year on average), while Croatia (-14 %) had the largest relative decrease.

Eleven Member States featured trade deficits in 2016, Belgium (- EUR 5.0 billion) was the only to exceed one billion. The largest trade surpluses in 2016 were achieved by Germany (EUR 82.9 billion) and the United Kingdom (EUR 14.6 billion).

Motor vehicles by subcategory

‘Motor cars and other motor vehicles for transporting people', represented 11 % (EUR 192.0 billion) of total extra-EU exports and 4 % (EUR 77.0 billion) of total extra-EU imports in 2016 (see Table 2). All subcategories of ‘Motor vehicles’ generated trade surpluses except ‘Motor cycles and cycles’, which accumulated a deficit of EUR 4.9 billion.

‘Motor cars and other motor vehicles for transporting people’ is the main category of ‘Motor vehicles’, with a share of around 65 % of exports and 50 % of imports. ‘Parts and accessories of motor vehicles’ follows with shares of 22 % of exports and 27 % of imports. In relative terms, two other sectors are noteworthy: ‘Motor cycles and cycles’ are mainly imported (10 % of motor vehicle imports), while ‘Motor vehicles for the transport of goods’ are mainly exported (7 % of motor vehicles exports).

The average annual growth rates of the different categories show three growing categories as well as three shrinking categories in exports. The highest growing categories were ‘Motor cycles and cycles’ (+5 %) and 'Motor cars and other motor vehicles for transporting people'. The largest decreases were in 'Trailers and semi-trailers' and 'Road vehicles, not elsewhere specified' (both -6 %) followed by ‘Motor vehicles for the transport of goods’ (-5 %). In imports all categories grew with average annual rates from +9 % for 'Motor cycles and cycles' to +25 % for 'Road vehicles, not elsewhere specified'.

Data sources and availability

EU data comes from Eurostat’s COMEXT database.

COMEXT is the Eurostat reference database for international trade in goods. It provides access not only to both recent and historical data from the EU Member States but also to statistics of a significant number of non-EU countries. International trade aggregated and detailed statistics disseminated from Eurostat website are compiled from COMEXT data according to a monthly process. Because COMEXT is updated on a daily basis, data published on the website may differ from data stored in COMEXT in case of recent revisions.

European statistics on international trade in goods are compiled according to the EU concepts and definitions and may, therefore, differ from national data published by Member States.

Product classification

Products of the road vehicles sector are defined according to the fourth revision of the Standard international trade classification. They include divisions for 781 Motor cars and other motor vehicles for transporting people; 782 Motor vehicles for the transport of goods and special-purpose motor vehicles; 783 Road vehicles, not elsewhere specified (tractors, etc); 784 Parts and accessories of motor vehicles; 785 Motor cycles and cycles, motorized and non-motorized; invalid carriages; and 786 Trailers and semi-trailers.

Unit of measure

Trade values are expressed in millions (106) of euros. They correspond to the statistical value, i.e. to the amount which would be invoiced in case of sale or purchase at the national border of the reporting country. It is called a FOB value (free on board) for exports and a CIF value (cost, insurance, freight) for imports.


The automobile industry remains of prime importance for the EU, producing about a quarter of the world total of motor vehicles. The industry accounts for 5 % of employment in the EU and is an important contributor to many of the EU's national economies. In Germany, for example, the industry's share in manufacturing as a whole is close to 20 %, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association. Trade in new and used motor vehicles accounts for a substantial part of the EU total, with close to 6 % of the total value of all extra-EU exports in 2011. The industry has suffered from the financial crisis which started in 2008 and is also under pressure from environmental regulation to curb tailpipe emissions.

See also

Further Eurostat information

Data visualisation

Main tables

International trade in goods - long-term indicators (t_ext_go_lti)
International trade of machinery and transport equipment (SITC 7), by declaring country (tet00009)
Extra-EU28 trade of machinery and transport equipment (SITC 7), by Member State (tet00059)
Extra-EU28 trade of machinery and transport equipment (SITC 7), by main partners (tet00030)
International trade in goods - short-term indicators (t_ext_go_sti)
Imports of goods - machinery and transport equipment (teiet170)
Exports of goods - machinery and transport equipment (teiet070)


International trade in goods - aggregated data (ext_go_agg)
International trade in goods - detailed data (detail)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Source data for tables, figures and maps (MS Excel)

Other information — Legal background

  • Regulation (EC) No 471/2009 of 6 May 2009 on Community statistics relating to external trade with non-member countries
  • Regulation (EU) No 92/2010 of 2 February 2010 implementing Regulation (EC) No 471/2009, as regards data exchange between customs authorities and national statistical authorities, compilation of statistics and quality assessment
  • Regulation (EU) No 113/2010 of 9 February 2010 implementing Regulation (EC) No 471/2009 , as regards trade coverage, definition of the data, compilation of statistics on trade by business characteristics and by invoicing currency, and specific goods or movements.

External links