By on July 22, 2011

Soon you’ll read all over Google that China has 217 million cars. Don’t believe it. It’s not true.

Motorvehicles China June 2011

Motor vehicles China 6/2011 (Millions)
Automobiles 98.46
Of those passenger (est) 62.97
Of those commercial (est) 35.49
Motorcycles 102.00
Other 16.54
Total motor vehicles 217.00
Automobiles per thousand pop 73
Passenger vehicles per thousand pop 47

(Blue: TTAC estimate. Source: Xinhua)

“The number of motor vehicles in China hit 217 million as of the end of June,” based on registration data issued by China’s Ministry of Public Security, as reported by state news agency Xinhua.

However, in China, anything that is propelled by an engine and needs a license plate counts as a “motor vehicle.” Motor cycles are about half of the 217 million total. 98 million of the motor vehicles on China’s roads are “automobiles”, leaving 16.54 million in the “other” category (tanks?).  So it’s 98 million cars? Not exactly.

Automobile Production China

Year Passenger Commercial Total Pass. Comm.
2010 13,897,083 4,367,584 18,264,667 76.09% 23.91%
2009 10,383,831 3,407,163 13,790,994 75.29% 24.71%
2008 6,737,745 2,561,435 9,299,180 72.46% 27.54%
2007 6,381,116 2,501,340 8,882,456 71.84% 28.16%
2006 5,233,132 1,955,576 7,188,708 72.80% 27.20%
2005 3,078,153 2,629,535 5,707,688 53.93% 46.07%
2004 2,480,231 2,754,265 5,234,496 47.38% 52.62%
2003 2,018,875 2,424,811 4,443,686 45.43% 54.57%
2002 1,101,696 2,185,108 3,286,804 33.52% 66.48%
2001 703,521 1,630,919 2,334,440 30.14% 69.86%
2000 604,677 1,464,392 2,069,069 29.22% 70.78%
1999 565,366 1,264,587 1,829,953 30.90% 69.10%
1998 507,103 1,120,726 1,627,829 31.15% 68.85%
Tot 53,692,529 30,267,441 83,959,970 63.95% 36.05%

Source: OICA

The “automobiles” again are divided down into passenger vehicles and commercial vehicles.  Currently, 76 percent of China’s production is passenger vehicles, 24 commercial. When I came to China first in 2004, the ratio was  47:53.  Totaling up the available data since 1998 gives a ratio of 64:36. (In China, “production” and “sales” can be used interchangeably on the macro level. Imports and exports don’t have much impact.) Using the average passenger-to-commercial ratio produces an estimated 64 million passenger vehicles on China’s roads, that compete with 35 million commercial vehicles for space on China’s clogged roads.

There are 73 “automobiles” per thousand people in China. There are approximately 47 passenger vehicles per thousand in China.  In the G7, that number is around 600, in the U.S.A., there are more than 800 automobiles  per thousand people.  China has many years of growth ahead. Private cars already account for more than 70 percent of the country’s total, says the ministry.

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6 Comments on “The Truth About All The Cars Of China...”

  • avatar


    I agree. The vast majority of China’s roads are clogged in the eastern coast cities. Out in the countryside, traffic is much lighter. Most of them will never own a car and will ride bikes as primary transportation.

  • avatar

    “leaving 16.54 million in the “other” category”

    So they can’t quite be classified as cars or motorcycles?

    Ye GODS…that’s a lot of KTM X-Bows! I thought annual production at the Graz plant was limited to 1,000 units.

    • 0 avatar

      When I was in Ningxia and some of the other poor central provinces I saw (and heard, oh god are they loud) an endless stream of three-wheeled tractor-type farm vehicles driven as families’ only form of transportation. I’ll bet those are in there.

  • avatar

    I would want a pet water buffalo to play with, jump on its back and use as a dive board for leaping into the rice paddy then languidly floating upon a giant lily pad while watching fluffy white clouds float peacefully past and shout excitedly to Wally the water buffalo when I saw a cloud that looked akin to Mao.

    And Mao would be kitty’s name; at least until Pa-san cut its little head off and hands it to Ma-san to cook fer’ dinner.

    • 0 avatar

      “And Mao would be kitty’s name….”

      OMG, I can’t believe I’d never considered this irony before. This made me laugh. Maybe because we have three cats in our household.

      Obbop, your irony astounds.

  • avatar

    Bertel, who is maintaining all these cars?
    I spent a month in Henan in 2005 and at that time a lot of the vehicles on the road were the blue 3-wheel trucks, or tractors. All the corporate bigwheels were upgrading from Cherokees to black Audi sedans. Our driver’s China-made Jeep Cherokee was horribly rattly, and obviously poorly maintained as was every vehicle I had the opportunity to inspect closely.
    What has happened to those Audi sedans in the past 6 years? I don’t think they would withstand a complete lack of maintenance as well at the trucks and Cherokees would.

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