Statistics Explained

Passenger cars in the EU




Data extracted in June 2022

Planned article update: January 2023

Highlights

In 2020, the number of battery-only electric passenger cars had increased by 200% since 2018 and exceeded 1 million vehicles.
In 2020, Luxembourg had the highest number of passenger cars per inhabitant in the EU, with 682 cars per thousand inhabitants.

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


Full article

Overview: car numbers grow with a rapid increase in electric but a low share of overall alternative fuels

Overall, the passenger car fleet in almost all of the EU Member States has grown over the last five years, reaching an EU total of 250 million cars (Table 2). The highest number of cars per thousand inhabitants was recorded in Luxembourg, followed by Italy and Poland (Figure 3). In 2020, Poland had by far the highest share of passenger cars older than 20 years, followed by Estonia and Finland (Figure 5).

Despite an increase over the last years, passenger cars powered by alternative fuels only made up a small share of the fleet of passenger cars in the EU in 2020 (Table 1). This is reflected by the share of cars powered by alternative fuels being low among the newly registered passenger cars (Figure 2).

However, in 2020 the number of battery-only electric passenger cars in the EU Member States exceeded for the first time 1 million, which was about 20 times higher than in 2013 and 3 times higher than in 2018. The highest rates of increase were noted between 2019 and 2020 (83.0 %) and between 2018 and 2019 (64.0 %). Their share in the total number of passenger cars grew from 0.02 % to 0.4 % (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Passenger cars and battery-only electric passenger cars, EU, 2013-2020
(number)
Source: Eurostat (road_eqs_carpda)

New passenger car engine fuel: petrol popular, diesel declining, alternative rising

The preferences for whether a new passenger car should be powered by a petrol or diesel engine vary across the EU Member States (Table 1). For the 21 Member States for which detailed data are available, 20 registered a higher petrol share; this is an accentuation of the phenomenon observed in 2017 (until 2015, the majority of Member States recorded a higher diesel share, in 2016 there was the same number on both sides).

Table 1: New passenger cars by type of engine fuel, 2020
(number)
Source: Eurostat (road_eqr_carmot) and (road_eqr_carpda)

In 2020, the highest shares of petrol-powered cars among the new registrations were noted in Lithuania (80.5 %), Finland (78.6 %) and the Netherlands (75.3 %), with high shares also recorded in Hungary (72.7 %), Malta (72.6 %), Cyprus (69.6 %), Denmark (69.1 %, 2019 data), Estonia (68.2 %), Sweden (66.1 %), Romania (62.7 %), Belgium and Spain (both 61.1 %), Latvia (60.9 %), France (60.3 %), Slovenia (59.1 %), Poland (54.1 %), Italy (53.8 %), Austria (53.5 %), Ireland (50.4 %) and Germany (46.7 %).

By contrast, the only country that recorded a higher share of diesel cars among new passenger cars was Croatia (65.9 %).

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 can generally be observed in the last three years (Figure 2). This share became majority in Norway (52.2 %), while it also overtook the diesel share in another EFTA country: Iceland (24.3 % vs. 21.9 %) in 2020. In the EU Member States the share of new passenger cars powered by alternative fuels was always lower than both petrol share and diesel share, however it exceeded 10 % in 2020 in Germany (25.2 %), the Netherlands (21.1 %), Italy (11.0 %), Poland (10.9 %), and Sweden (10.7 %). For one Member State only (Cyprus), the new passenger cars powered by alternative fuels represented less than 2 % of the total new passenger cars registered in 2020.

Figure 2: New passenger cars with alternative fuel engine, 2018-2020
(% of new passenger cars)
Source: Eurostat (road_eqr_carmot) and (road_eqr_carpda)

The share of registrations of new passenger cars powered by alternative fuels fluctuates 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, for example, tax reductions, subsidies or specific privileges such as access to lanes reserved for public transport and free parking. Other main reasons are the number and variety of passenger car models with alternative fuel engines offered, as well as the prices of such models.

An almost 10 % increase in EU-registered passenger cars since 2015

In 2020, the number of passenger cars registered in the EU reached 250 million, corresponding to an increase of 9.7 % as compared to 2015. The highest number of registered passenger cars was observed in Germany with almost 48 million cars. Thereafter followed Italy (40 million cars) and France (38 million cars). Over the six-year period from 2015 to 2020, there was a strong growth in the number of registered passenger cars in several Member States (Table 2). The highest growth over this period was recorded in Romania (41 %), followed by Lithuania (26 %), Hungary (23 %), Poland (21 %), Estonia and Slovakia (both 20 %), Cyprus (19%), Czechia and Portugal (both 18 %), as well as Croatia (16 %).

Table 2: Passenger cars, 2015-2020
(number)
Source: Eurostat (road_eqs_carmot)

Only one Member State recorded a decline in the number of registered passenger cars over the period observed: Bulgaria, with a decline of 9.3 % from 2015 to 2020 (the minimum was reached in 2017).

Amongst the EU Member States with the highest motorisation rates, i.e. passenger cars per thousand inhabitants, there are several smaller countries (Figure 3). Luxembourg (682 passenger cars per thousand 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 670 cars per thousand inhabitants. Other countries with a high motorisation rate include Poland (664 cars), Finland (652 cars), and Cyprus (645 cars).

These EU Member States are overtaken by two EFTA countries: Liechtenstein (779 cars) and Iceland (731 cars), while the other two EFTA countries: Norway (544 cars) and Switzerland (537 cars) are close to the EU average (560 cars).

Figure 3: Motorisation rate, 2020
Source: Eurostat (road_eqs_carhab)

At the other end of the scale, a particularly low motorisation rate is recorded in Romania (379 cars), despite a growth in the number of registered cars of 41 % over the period 2015-2020. The motorisation rate in the EU candidate countries and potential candidates for which data are available (Montenegro, North Macedonia Albania, Serbia, Turkey and Kosovo*) is substantially lower than in the Member States. The smallest value, 157 cars per thousand inhabitants, was recorded in Turkey.
*Kosovo: This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/99 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence.


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

In 14 of the 24 Member States for which information is available for 2020 (2019 data for Denmark), there were more petrol cars than diesel cars, with the share of petrol cars ranging from 84 % in the Netherlands to 47 % in Italy (Figure 4). In the other 10 Member States, diesel cars outnumbered petrol cars with their shares ranging from 68 % in Lithuania to 50 % in Slovenia. 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 2020 in most Member States. In 8 out of 24 Member States for which information is available, including Denmark (2019 data), 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 16.2 % in 2020. 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 Italy (9.4 %), Lithuania (7.3 %), Latvia (6.3 %) and Sweden (5.9 %), see Figure 4.

Figure 4: Passenger cars by type of engine fuel, 2020
(% of all passenger cars)
Source: Eurostat (road_eqs_carpda)

In 16 out of 21 EU countries, for which data are available, it can be noticed that the share of small petrol engines is higher than the medium- and large-sized ones (Table 3).

In Malta, in 2020, more than half of all passenger cars had small petrol engines, with the share of cars with small-sized petrol engines reaching 55.5 % of the total, followed by the Netherlands with 50.8 %. In Finland, medium-sized petrol engines powered 40.3 % of the passenger cars. The highest shares of large petrol engines can be found in passenger cars in Estonia (10.8 % of all passenger cars) and Finland (9.1 %), and in the EFTA countries, Liechtenstein (17.1 %) and Switzerland (11.5 %).

Table 3: Petrol-driven passenger cars by size of engine, 2020
(number and % share of all passenger cars)
Source: Eurostat (road_eqs_carmot)

Overall, passenger cars with small engines generally 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 (Table 4). This is particularly the case for the group of countries with the highest overall share of diesel-powered passenger cars (Ireland, France, Portugal, Austria, Croatia and Spain). However, for Latvia, which has an even higher proportion of diesel-powered vehicles than the countries in the group, the share of large motor engines (> 2000 cm3) is quite significant (24.9 %).

Table 4: Diesel-driven passenger cars by size of engine, 2020
(number and % share of all passenger cars)
Source: Eurostat (road_eqs_carmot)

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 2020, see Figure 5. The Member States with the highest shares were Poland (40.0 %), Estonia (32.7 %), Finland (28.5 %), Lithuania (24.8 %), Romania (24.3 %) and Malta (23.4 %). By contrast, the shares of the ’youngest’ passenger cars (less than 2 years old) were highest in Ireland (26.0 %), Denmark (22.6 %, 2019 data), Luxembourg (22.0 %), and Belgium (21.6 %).

Figure 5: Passenger cars by age, 2020
(% of all passenger cars)
Source: Eurostat (road_eqs_carage)

In recent years, several countries have been offering programmes supporting the purchase of new cars with low emissions while scrapping the owners’ old cars. The general aim of these programmes has been 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. In this context, one should take note of the reference year when analysing these data. Figure 6 presents the age distribution of passenger cars in 2020 (i.e. on 31 December 2020).

Figure 6: Age of passenger cars, 2020
(% of all passenger cars)
(¹) 2019 data instead of 2020.
Source: Eurostat (road_eqs_carage)

Source data for tables and graphs

Data sources

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

Coverage

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

Definitions

All definitions used are taken from the Eurostat/UNECE/ITF Glossary for Transport Statistics, currently in its 5th 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.

New motor vehicles registered during the year

The new motor vehicles registered during the year are those motor vehicles that are first-time registered as new in a motor vehicle register, irrespective of the nationality of the register. The imported second-hand vehicles are not first-time registered but should be regarded as reregistered vehicles. Thus, should not be included in the number of new motor vehicles registered first time during the year.

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.

Context

The Common Questionnaire on Inland Transport Statistics 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-ups and vans from the definition of “passenger cars”, and may also exclude very old vehicles. This article covers data provided by the EU Member States, the EFTA countries and EU candidate countries and potential candidates.

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