International trade in cars
Data extracted in April 2020.
Planned article update: April 2021.
Cars – exports to countries outside the EU fell from € 150 billion in 2015 to € 140 billion in 2019.
Cars - In Slovakia 48 % of exports to countries outside the EU-27 are cars.
Cars – Germany largest exporter (€ 84 billion, 60 % of EU-27 total) in 2019.
EU-27 exports, imports and trade balance in motor cars, 2002-2019
This article describes the development of trade in cars. The car industry is of prime importance to the economy of the European Union (EU) and plays a major role in international trade.
This article is part of an online publication providing recent statistics on international trade in goods, covering information on the EU's main partners, main products traded, specific characteristics of trade as well as background information.
Car exports peaked in 2015
In 2019, the EU exported EUR 140 billion worth of cars which was 10 billion less than the peak of EUR 150 billion in 2015. Imports in 2019 amounted to EUR 63 billion, giving the EU a trade surplus of EUR 77 billion (Figure 1). The value of extra-EU exports of cars increased by an average of 3.6 % per year between 2002 and 2019 while imports grew at an average of 5.4 % per year.
In 2002, the share of cars in total EU exports of goods was 7.7 % (Figure 2). This share dropped to 5.2 % in 2009 and peaked at 8.0 % in 2015 and then dropped to 6.6 % in 2019. The share of cars in total EU imports of goods was 2.8 % in 2002. It dropped to 1.9 % in 2012 and reached a peak of 3.3 % in 2019.
Who are the EU's partners in trade of cars?
In 2019, the United Kingdom was the main export destination of EU's cars (26 % of the total), ahead of the United States (20 %), China (13 %), Japan, Switzerland (both 5 %) and South Korea (4 %). These six made up three quarters of extra-EU exports of cars.
With 21 %, the United Kingdom was the main origin of extra-EU imports, 4 percentage points ahead of Japan (17 %). They preceded the United States (15 %), Turkey (13 %), South Korea (10 %) and Mexico (8 %). Together the top six made up 84 % of all extra-EU imports of cars. It should be noted that exports and imports relate to production within the corresponding country, regardless of the nationality of the factory.
In 2002, exports of cars to the United Kingdom amounted to EUR 27 billion which after some fluctuations dropped to EUR 19 billion in 2009 (Figure 4). After that they grew to EUR 41 billion in 2015 and 2016. They dropped to EUR 36 billion in 2018 and 2019.
Imports from the United Kingdom were EUR 9 billion in 2002 and remained between EUR 8 billion and EUR 12 billion until 2014. They increased to EUR 16 billion in 2016 after which they gradually fell, reaching EUR 13 billion in 2019.
Between 2002 and 2019, the EU had a trade surplus for cars with the United Kingdom which peaked at EUR 26 billion in 2015. It dropped to EUR 21 billion in 2018 but increased to EUR 23 billion in 2019.
Between 2002 and 2008, exports of cars to the United States had already fallen from EUR 23 billion to EUR 18 billion (Figure 5). In 2009 they declined to EUR 11 billion, losing EUR 7 billion in only one year. However, there was a strong resurgence of exports, peaking at 34 billion in 2015. After this peak, there was a decline to EUR 29 billion in 2018 and 2019.
Imports from the United States grew from EUR 3 billion in 2002 to EUR 6 billion in 2008 but then halved in 2009. They peaked in 2019 at EUR 9 billion.
During the whole period, the EU had a trade surplus for cars with the United States. It was lowest in 2009 (EUR 8 billion), peaking in 2015 (EUR 27 billion) and then falling to EUR 19 billion in 2019.
In 2002, exports of cars to China amounted to EUR 1 billion, growing to 5 billion in 2009 (Figure 6). After that growth accelerated and peaked in 2019 at EUR 19 billion. Imports of cars from China where very small throughout the whole period, reaching EUR 1 billion in 2019.
The share of intra and extra EU-27 imports of cars varied greatly between Member States. The share for intra EU-27 imports was above 50 % in Malta (70 %), Cyprus (67 %) and Slovenia (52 %) and below 5 % in Croatia, Slovakia (both 4 %) and Luxembourg (1 %). The average for the EU-27 was 24 %.
The share of intra and extra EU-27 exports of cars varied even more than for imports. The share for intra EU-27 exports was above 90 % in Malta (almost 100 %), Cyprus (99 %) and Ireland (93 %) and below 5 % in Latvia (4 %), Luxembourg (3 %) and Estonia (1 %). The average for the EU-27 was 42 %.
Germany is the EU's largest exporter of cars
Looking at the trade in cars by individual Member State, Germany alone was responsible for two fifths (60 %) of the EU total exports in 2019 (Table 1). In relative terms, i.e. compared to their total extra-EU export, cars represented 13.3 % of Germany's total exports. This share was surpassed only by Slovakia (48.2 %). Czechia (12.9 %) was the only other Member State whose share of cars in total exports of goods was higher than 10 %.
With a trade value of EUR 18 billion in 2019, Germany’s share in total EU imports of cars (29 %) was the highest of the EU imports). It was followed by Belgium (25 %), France (10 %) and Italy (9 %). For most member states imports of cars made up less than 5 % of their total imports of goods. Only three countries had higher shares: Slovenia (13 %), Belgium and Cyprus (both 10 %). Fourteen Member States had deficits for trade in cars in 2019. It was highest in Belgium (EUR 5.3 billion), The remaining thirteen Member States had surpluses, which was highest in Germany (EUR 65 billion) and Slovakia (EUR 8 billion).
The subcategory 'cars and other motor vehicles for transporting people', described above as cars, is one of the six subcategories that make up the category road vehicles. Total exports of road vehicles in 2019 were worth EUR 229 billion and its imports were EUR 110 billion. Exports of cars (EUR 140 billion) made up 61 % of road vehicles while imports of cars (EUR 63 billion) were 57 % of imports (Figure 9). ‘Parts and accessories of motor vehicles’ followed with exports of EUR 53 billion (24 %) and imports of EUR 25 billion (23 %). 'Motor vehicles for the transport of goods’ had exports of EUR 19 billion (9 %) and imports of EUR 7 billion (6 %). ‘Motor cycles and cycles’ is the only subcategory where the EU had a trade deficit which amounted to EUR -5.9 billion in 2019.
Source data for tables and graphs
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.
The EU-27 data reflect the political change in the EU composition. Therefore the United Kingdom is considered as an extra-EU partner country for the EU-27. However, the United Kingdom is still part of the internal market until the end of the transitory period, meaning that data on trade with the United Kingdom are still based on statistical concepts applicable to trade between the EU Member States. As a consequence, while imports from any other extra-EU-27 trade partner are grouped by country of origin, the United Kingdom data reflect country of consignment. In practice this means that the goods imported by the EU-27 from the United Kingdom were physically transported from the United Kingdom but part of these goods could have been of other origin than the United Kingdom. For this reason data on trade with the United Kingdom are not fully comparable with data on trade with other extra-EU-27 trade partners.
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 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.
Trade is an important indicator of Europe’s prosperity and place in the world. The bloc is deeply integrated into global markets both for the products it sources and the exports it sells. The EU trade policy is an important element of the external dimension of the 'Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth’ and is one of the main pillars of the EU’s relations with the rest of the world.
Because the 27 EU Member States share a single market and a single external border, they also have a single trade policy. EU Member States speak and negotiate collectively, both in the World Trade Organization, where the rules of international trade are agreed and enforced, and with individual trading partners. This common policy enables them to speak with one voice in trade negotiations, maximising their impact in such negotiations. This is even more important in a globalised world in which economies tend to cluster together in regional groups.
The openness of the EU’s trade regime has meant that the EU is the biggest player on the global trading scene and remains a good region to do business with. Thanks to the ease of modern transport and communications, it is now easier to produce, buy and sell goods around the world which gives European companies of every size the potential to trade outside Europe.
- 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)
- International trade in goods statistics - background
- International trade in goods (ESMS metadata file — ext_go_agg_esms)
- User guide on European statistics on international trade in goods
- Regulation (EC) No 471/2009 of 6 May 2009 on Community statistics relating to external trade with non-member countries
- Summaries of EU Legislation: Extrastat: statistics relating to trade with non-EU 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.