Passenger cars in the EU

Data extracted in April 2019

Planned article update: May 2020

In 2017, Luxembourg had the highest number of passenger cars per inhabitant in the EU, with 670 cars per 1000 inhabitants.

This article describes developments in passenger car stocks and new registrations in the European Union (EU), focusing in particular on passenger cars powered by ‘alternative fuels’.

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Despite an increase over the last years, passenger cars powered by alternative fuels, including hybrid cars, only made up a small share of the fleet of passenger cars in the EU in 2017. This is reflected by the share of cars powered by alternative fuels being low among the newly registered passenger cars.

Overall, the passenger car fleet in almost all of the EU Member States has grown over the last five years. The highest number of cars per inhabitant was recorded in Luxembourg, followed by Italy (2016 data), Finland and Malta . In 2017, Poland had by far the highest share of passenger cars older than 20 years, followed by Estonia and Finland.

Preferences with regards to petrol or diesel powered passenger cars vary across the EU Member States; amongst the Member States for which recent data are available, cars with petrol powered engines make up the majority of registered passenger cars in most countries; diesel powered passenger cars dominate in only ten Member States. When looking at petrol and diesel engines together, medium sized engines dominated the passenger car fleet in most EU Member States; however, in Hungary and Malta the smallest engines dominated.

New passenger car registrations

The preferences for whether a new passenger car should be powered by a petrol or diesel engine vary across the EU Member States. For the 21 Member States for which detailed data are available, 16 registered a higher petrol share; this is a change from the past, when a majority of Member States recorded a higher diesel share.

Table 1: New passenger cars by type of engine fuel, 2017 - Source: Eurostat (road_eqr_carmot)and (road_eqr_carpda)

In 2017, the highest shares of petrol powered cars among the new registrations were noted in the Netherlands (80.0 %), Estonia (74.8 %), Finland (68.7 %), Denmark (64.4 %), Malta (62.8 %), Germany (57.7 %), the United Kingdom (57.6 %), Cyprus (56.9 %), Latvia (55.6 %), Hungary (54.3 %), Poland (53.8 %), Slovenia (52.7 %), Belgium (52.1 %) and France (51.6 %). In contrast, the highest shares of diesel cars among the new passenger cars were recorded in Croatia (76.1 %), Lithuania (68.5 %), Romania (67.3 %), Ireland (65.6 %), Portugal (62.1 %) and Spain (50.7 %).

In the EU Member States and EFTA countries for which recent data are available, an increase in the share of new registrations of passenger cars powered by alternative fuels (including hybrids) can generally be observed in the period from 2015 to 2017, although at a low level in most countries. In 2017, the highest share by far of alternative fuels in new registrations could be seen in Poland (8.7 %) and Italy (8.2 %) and, from the EFTA countries, in Norway (22.7 %). Far behind followed Germany (4.2 %), Ireland (4.1 %) and Hungary with a share of 3.8 % of passenger cars with alternative fuels amongst the new registrations. However, for more than ten Member States, registrations of new passenger cars with alternative fuels was less than 2 % of the total registrations in 2017.

Figure 1: New passenger cars with alternative fuel engine, 2015-2017 (% of new passenger cars) - Source: Eurostat (road_eqr_carmot) and (road_eqr_carpda)

The share of registration of new passenger cars powered by alternative fuel fluctuates in several countries; indeed, as can be seen from Figure 1, the share of cars with alternative fuels in the total new registrations increased from 2015 to 2017 in several countries. One of the reasons behind this is the variety of government incentives to stimulate the share of cars with lower emissions, and the timing of when these incentives are introduced. These incentives include e.g. tax reductions, subsidies or specific privileges such as access to lanes reserved for public transport, free parking, etc. Another main influence is the number and variety of passenger car models with alternative fuel engines offered, as well as the prices of such models.

Highest number of passenger cars per inhabitant in Luxembourg

In 2017, the highest number of registered passenger cars was observed in Germany with 46 million cars. Thereafter followed Italy (37 million cars: 2016 data) and France (32 million cars). Over the five year period from 2013 to 2017, there was strong growth in the number of registered passenger cars in several Member States. The highest growth over this period was recorded in Slovakia (18 %), followed by Czechia and Portugal (both 17 %), Estonia (15 %), Malta and Hungary (both 14 %).

Table 2: Passenger cars (number) - Source: Eurostat (road_eqs_carmot)

Only three Member States recorded a decline in the number of registered passenger cars over the period observed: France experienced a fall of 2.6 % and Bulgaria 4.8 % from 2013 to 2017; in Lithuania, the number of registered passenger cars slumped by 25 % over this period, mainly due to a change in register procedures in 2014, where cars that do not have compulsory technical inspection or where vehicle owner's compulsory civil liability insurance had expired by 1 July 2014 were removed from the register. Consequently, Lithuanian data from 2014 onwards cannot be directly compared to data for earlier years.

Amongst the EU Member States with the highest ’motorisation rates’, i.e. passenger cars per 1000 inhabitants, there are several smaller countries. Luxembourg (670 passenger cars per 1000 inhabitants) heads the list; however, this figure may be influenced by cross-border workers (i.e. not inhabitants) using company cars registered in the country. In second place follows Italy with 625 cars per 1000 inhabitants. Other countries with a high motorisation rate include Finland (617 cars), Malta (613 cars) and Cyprus (609 cars).

Figure 2: Number of passenger cars per thousand inhabitants, 2017 - Source: Eurostat (road_eqs_carhab)

At the other end of the scale, a particularly low motorisation rate is recorded in Romania (261 cars: 2015 data), despite a growth in the number of registered cars of almost 10 % over the period 2013-2015. The motorisation rate in the two EU candidate countries for which data are available is substantially lower than in the Member States. The smallest value, 149 cars per thousand inhabitants, was recorded in Turkey.

Small petrol engines more common than medium-sized and large engines

Passenger cars with small petrol engines more common than medium-sized and large engines in the majority of Member States

In 14 of the 24 Member States for which information is available, the majority of passenger cars were powered by a petrol engine in 2017. The ten Member States where there were more diesel cars than petrol cars were France, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Belgium, Spain, Austria, Latvia, Portugal, Ireland and Croatia (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Passenger cars by type of engine fuel, 2017 (% of all passenger cars) - Source: Eurostat (road_eqs_carpda)

In Malta, more than half of all passenger cars had small petrol engines in 2017, with the share of small petrol-driven passenger cars reaching 55.6 % of the total, followed by Hungary with 45.1 %. In Cyprus, medium sized petrol engines powered 44.5 % of the passenger cars. Large petrol engines can be found in passenger cars in particular in Estonia (11.3 % of all passenger cars) and Finland (9.3 %) and in the EFTA countries Lichtenstein (19.3 %) and Switzerland (12.7 %).

Table 3: Petrol-driven passenger cars by size of engine, 2017 (% of all passenger cars) - Source: Eurostat (road_eqs_carmot)

Overall, passenger cars with small engines usually use petrol as fuel; there are relatively few passenger cars with small diesel engines in the EU. Medium sized engines dominate amongst the diesel-powered passenger cars in all Member States for which data are available. This is particularly the case for countries with the highest overall share of diesel powered passenger cars, France and Spain, as well as in the other countries where more than half of the passenger cars were diesel cars, most notably Austria and Belgium.

Table 4: Diesel-driven passenger cars by size of engine, 2017 (share of total registered passenger cars %) - Source: Eurostat (road_eqs_carmot)

Despite efforts across Europe to increase the share of cars with low CO2 emissions, the share of passenger cars powered by alternative fuels remained low in most Member States in 2017. In most of the Member States, passenger cars using alternative energy represented less than 1 % of the total passenger car fleet. The most striking exception is Poland, where the share of passenger cars powered by alternative fuels reached 15 % in 2017. This is to a large extent due to a high number of cars retro-fitted for LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) use. Other countries with notable shares of passenger cars using alternative fuels are Lithuania (9 %), Italy (2016 data) and Latvia (both 8 %) and Sweden (6 %).

Highest share of passenger cars over 20 years old in Poland

Several Member States reported a large share of ’old’ passenger cars (20 years or older) in 2017. The Member States with the highest shares were Poland (35.2 %), Estonia (28.7 %), Finland (23.7 %) and Malta (20.3 %). By contrast, the shares of the ’youngest’ passenger cars (less than 2 years old) were highest in Ireland (27.5 %), Luxembourg (24.0 %), Denmark (23.6 %), and Belgium (22.2 %).

Figure 4: Passenger cars by age, 2017 (% of all passenger cars) - Source: Eurostat (road_eqs_carage)

In recent years, a number of countries had programmes in place supporting purchases of new cars with low emissions while scrapping the owners’ old car. The general aim of these programmes was the renewal of the passenger car fleet with lower emission cars, while simultaneously stimulating the economy. These programmes have had a certain influence on the age composition of passenger cars in individual countries. Such programmes were set up in almost half of the Member States; in this context, one should take note of the reference year when analysing these data.

Source data for tables and graphs

Data sources

The Eurostat/ITF/UNECE Common Questionnaire on Inland Transport.


The data in this article covers the EU Member States, the EFTA countries and the candidate countries (list of countries and the corresponding country codes).


All definitions used are taken from the Eurostat/UNECE/ITF Glossary for Transport Statistics, currently in its 4th edition. This glossary can be found on Eurostat’s website Eurostat/UNECE/ITF Glossary for Transport Statistics.

Passenger cars

Road motor vehicle, other than a moped or a motor cycle, intended for the carriage of passengers and designed to seat no more than nine persons (including the driver).

Included are:

  • Passenger cars
  • Vans designed and used primarily for transport of passengers
  • Taxis
  • Hire cars
  • Ambulances
  • Motor homes
  • Micro-cars (needing no permit to be driven)

Excluded are light goods road vehicles, as well as motor-coaches and buses, and mini-buses/mini-coaches.

Motor energy

The principal type of motor energy used by the vehicle as certified by the competent authority of the country of registration. For hybrid or dual-fuelled vehicles adapted for using more than one type of motor energy (e.g. LPG and petrol, or electricity and diesel, etc.), the principal type of motor energy should be, where possible, an alternative fuel.

Alternative fuel

A type of motor energy other than the conventional fuels, petrol and diesel. Alternative fuels include electricity, LPG, natural gas (NGL or CNG), alcohols, mixtures of alcohols with other fuels, hydrogen, bio-fuels (such as biodiesel), etc. (this list is not exhaustive). Alternative fuels do not include unleaded petrol, reformulated petrol or city (low-sulphur) diesel.

Motorisation rate

The number of registered passenger cars per 1000 inhabitants.


The Common Questionnaire on Inland Transport is a joint project of Eurostat, the International Transport Forum (ITF) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). The data are provided on a voluntary basis by a large number of countries, both within and outside the European Union. Data is collected from reliable sources, but data collection methodologies are not harmonised at EU level. Comparability across countries is restricted as the classifications used in the national vehicle registers are not harmonised. Vehicle registers may exclude taxis, pick-up and vans, and may also exclude very old vehicles. This article covers data provided by the EU Member States, the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries and EU candidate countries.

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