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Will China's Vehicle Population Grow Even Faster than Forecasted?

UCD-ITS-RP-12-87

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Suggested Citation:
Wang, Yunshi, Jacob Teter, Daniel Sperling (2012) Will China's Vehicle Population Grow Even Faster than Forecasted?. Access Magazine 1 (41), 29 - 33

In 2010, China surpassed the U.S. and all other countries in vehicle sales, and will no doubt retain its number one ranking for decades. But how big will China’s vehicle market become? The answer is of great importance for the entire world. Rapid Chinese motorization has alarming implications for both the environment and global energy resources. China is already the world’s largest CO2 emitter and second-largest oil importer. Yet its vehicle ownership rates are still a fraction of those in the US—58 vehicles per 1,000 persons in 2010 compared to 804 per 1,000 in the US. Clearly, the market for vehicles in China will grow. Most forecasts anticipate Chinese growth leveling off at an ownership rate of about 200–300 vehicles per 1,000 persons in 2030 or later. But what if vehicle growth is even faster? Could vehicle ownership rates reach Western European and Japanese levels of about 600 vehicles per 1,000 persons?

Past research on this question gives cause for concern. In the last decade, several major studies forecasted growth rates and ownership levels in the Chinese vehicle market. All of these studies projected 6 to 11 percent annual growth in Chinese vehicle ownership—far lower than the 19 percent annual growth during the past decade. Were the recent high growth rates a temporary aberration related to a surge in China’s economic growth? Or were forecasters too conservative in their estimates?