International trade in cars

Data extracted in April 2019.

Planned article update: April 2020.


Cars – exports to countries outside the EU fell from € 132 billion in 2017 to € 128 billion in 2018.

Cars - US largest destination for EU exports (€ 37 billion, 29 % of total) in 2018.

Cars – Germany largest EU exporter (€ 70 billion, 55 % of total) in 2018.

EU-28 exports, imports and trade balance in cars, 2002-2018

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.

Full article

Car exports peak in 2018

In 2018, the EU exported EUR 128 billion worth of cars. Imports in that same year amounted to EUR 46 billion, giving the EU a trade surplus of EUR 82 billion (Figure 1). The value of extra-EU exports of cars increased by an average of 5.1 % per year between 2002 and 2018 while imports grew at an average of 5.2 % per year.

Figure 1:EU-28 exports, imports and trade balance in cars, 2002-2018 (EUR_billion)
Source: Eurostat (online data code: DS-018995)

In 2002, the share of cars in total EU exports of goods was 6.5 % (Figure 2). This share dropped to 4.4 % in 2009 and peaked at 7.2 % in 2015 and 2016. It dropped to 6.5 % in 2018. The share of cars in total EU imports of goods was 2.2 % in 2002, peaked at 2.6 % in 2004, had a low of 1.4 % in 2012 and 2013 and was 2.3 % in 2018.

Figure 2: Share of cars in total extra-EU trade, 2002-2018 (%)
Source: Eurostat (online data code: DS-018995)

Who are the EU's partners in trade of cars?

In 2018, the United States was the main export destination of EU's cars (29 % of the total), well ahead of China (17 %) (Figure 3). Japan (7 %), Switzerland (6 %), South Korea (5 %) and Turkey (3 %) completed the top 6. These six made up two thirds of extra-EU exports of cars.

With 21 %, Japan was the main origin of extra-EU imports, 2 percentage points ahead of Turkey (19 %) which had been the main import partner in 2016. They preceded South Korea (16 %), the United States (12 %), Mexico (11 %) and South Africa (9 %). Together the top six made up 88 % 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.

Figure 3: Main extra EU-28 partners for exports and imports of cars, 2018(%)
Source: Eurostat (online data code: DS-018995)

Between 2002 and 2008, exports of cars to the United States had already fallen from EUR 28 billion to EUR 21 billion (Figure 4) but in 2009 they declined to EUR 13 billion, losing EUR 8 billion in only one year. However, there was a strong resurgence of exports, gaining EUR 15 billion between 2009 and 2013 and EUR 12 billion in the next two years, thus peaking at 40 billion in 2015. After this peak, there was a decline to EUR 37 billion in 2018.

Imports from the United States grew from EUR 4 billion in 2002 to EUR 6 billion in 2008 but then halved in 2009. In most of the following years (exceptions in 2011 and 2016) they grew, peaking at EUR 7 billion in 2016 and dropping to EUR 6 billion in 2018. During the whole period, the EU had a trade surplus for cars with the United States. It was lowest in 2009 (EUR 10 billion), peaking in 2015 (EUR 33 billion) and then falling to EUR 32 billion in 2018.

Figure 4:EU-28 trade with the United States in cars, 2002-2018 (EUR_billion)
Source: Eurostat (online data code: DS-018995)

In 2002, exports of cars to Japan amounted to EUR 5 billion which after some fluctuations dropped to EUR 3 billion in 2009 (Figure 5). After that they grew in every year except 2014 and consequently reached a new high of EUR 8 billion in 2018. EU imports from Japan were EUR 10 billion in 2002 and hovered around EUR 11 to 12 billion until 2008. The next years they dropped until bottoming out at EUR 6 billion in 2013 after which they started growing again. In 2018 imports reached EUR 10 billion, which was still below its previous peak in 2004.

Between 2002 and 2011, the EU had a trade deficit for cars with Japan which peaked at EUR 8 billion in 2006 and 2007. In 2012 and 2013, the EU had a small trade surplus. From 2014 to 2018 the deficits remained below EUR 2 billion.

Figure 5: EU-28 trade with Japan in cars, 2002-2018 (EUR_billion)
Source: Eurostat (online data code: DS-018995)

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 2014 at EUR 23 billion. There was a large drop to EUR 18 billion in 2015 followed by a recovery. In 2018, exports were EUR 22 billion. Imports of cars from China where very small throughout the whole period.

Figure 6: EU-28 trade with China in cars, 2002-2018 (EUR_billion)
Source: Eurostat (online data code: DS-018995)

South Korea, Turkey (both 21 times ) and Japan (20 times) appear most often as a top three partner for imports of cars by EU Member States, well ahead of the other countries which appear between 1 and 5 times (Figure 7). Only Germany, Luxembourg and Lithuania have a top three without Japan, Turkey and Korea. In total there are 11 different countries as a top three partner for the Member States.

Figure 7: Top 3 partners for extra EU-28 imports of cars by Member State, 2018 (%)
Source: Eurostat (online data code: DS-018995)

There is more variation in export destinations where a total of 29 countries appear as a top three partner for the EU Member States (Figure 8). However 23 of these partners appear less than 5 times. Only China, Switzerland and the United States (each 10 times), Japan and Turkey (both 6 times) appear more often. Proximity plays an important role in exports, as can be seen in the top partners for Greece and Bulgaria (North Macedonia), France (Switzerland), Lithuania (Belarus), Hungary (Serbia), Malta (Libya), Romania (Turkey), Finland and Estonia (both Russia), Cyprus (Egypt) and Croatia (Bosnia Herzegovina).

Figure 8: Top 3 partners for extra EU-28 exports of cars by Member State, 2018 (%)
Source: Eurostat (online data code: DS-018995)

Germany is the EU's largest exporter of cars

Looking at the trade in cars by individual Member State, Germany alone was responsible for well over half (55 %) of the EU total exports in 2018 (Table 1). The United Kingdom, ranking second, registered a sixth (17 %) of the EU total exports. In relative terms, i.e. compared to their total extra-EU export, cars represented 13.0 % of Germany's total exports. This share was surpassed only by Slovakia (45.2 %). Czechia (11.5 %) and the United Kingdom (10.2 %) were the only other Member States whose share of cars in total exports of goods was higher than 10 %.

With a trade value of EUR 13 billion in 2018, Germany’s share in total EU imports of cars was the most significant (28 % of the EU imports), followed by Belgium (22 %), France, the United Kingdom and Italy (all three 9%). For most member states imports of cars made up less than 3 % of their total imports of goods. Only three countries had higher shares: Slovenia (15.2 %), Belgium (7.4 %) and Germany (3.5 %). Fifteen Member States had deficits for trade in cars in 2018, Belgium (EUR 7.5 billion), Slovenia (EUR 1.3 billion) and France (EUR 1.1 billion) were the only three where the deficit exceeded one billion.

The largest trade surpluses in 2018 were achieved by Germany (EUR 57.3 billion) and the United Kingdom (EUR 18.0 billion). Slovakia (5.1 billion), Sweden (EUR 3.6 billion), Czechia (EUR 2.8 billion), Italy (EUR 2.6 billion) and Austria (EUR 1.4 billion), also had surpluses of more than EUR 1 billion.

Table1: Extra EU trade in cars by Member State, 2018 (EUR million and %)
Source: Eurostat (online data code: DS-018995)

Cars dominate trade in motor vehicles and related products

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 2018 were worth EUR 205 billion and its imports were EUR 87 billion. Exports of cars (EUR 128 billion) made up 62 % of road vehicles while imports of car (EUR 46 billion) were 53 % of imports (Figure 9). ‘Parts and accessories of motor vehicles’ followed with exports of EUR 48 billion (24 %) and imports of EUR 24 billion (28 %). 'Motor vehicles for the transport of goods’ had exports of EUR 15 billion (7 %) and imports of EUR 7 billion (8 %). ‘Motor cycles and cycles’ is the only subcategory where the EU had a trade deficit which amounted to EUR 5.9 billion in 2018.

Figure 9: Extra EU-28 trade in road vehicles by category, 2018 (EUR_billion)
Source: Eurostat (online data code: DS-018995)

Source data for tables and graphs

Data source

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 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 28 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.

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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)

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