Car Ownership


Driver description
Interactions within the Social Domain
Interactions with the Economy Domain
Interactions with the Environment Domain
Interactions with the Technology Domain
Impacts on Mobility and Transport

Driver description

  • “The 20th century was the age of the car. It became a status symbol for those who had it, and an aspiration for those who could not afford it.” (Ref: CO_5018)
  • “Ownership rates increased significantly during the 70s, and for lower-income households during the 80s, but flattened and declined in some classes during the 90s. The period of growth in per capita vehicle ownership rates coincided with Baby Boomer’s peak driving years, significant growth in the portion of women employed outside the home, rising wages, low fuel prices, cheap credit and suburbanization. Most of these factors have peaked and many are now reversing.” (Ref: CO_5047)
  • “International data indicates that vehicle ownership growth rates started to decline after 1990 in most wealthy countries such as Denmark, Germany, France, Italy, Finland, Sweden and the U.K., and appear likely to level off at a point lower than the U.S. peak of 0.75 vehicles per capita. Millard-Ball and Schipper (2010) and Newman and Kenworthy (2011) found similar patterns in other industrialized countries (Australia, Canada, various European countries, and the U.S.).” (Ref: CO_5047)
  • “In 2000, marked differences in car ownership rates still existed between countries: Greece had the lowest ownership with about 280 passenger cars per 1000 inhabitants and Luxembourg the highest with more than 610. The European average reached about 468 cars per 1000 inhabitants, a 19.7% increase since 1990. Variations in income levels and fuel prices, and different tax regimes for the purchase, ownership and use of cars, are part of the explanation for these differences.” (Ref: CO_6004)
  • “According to the model’s baseline projections, car ownership levels in the EU-15 are expected to continue increasing but, especially after 2015, will probably reach saturation at values between 600 and 650 cars per 1000 inhabitants (see figure below). (Ref: CO_2015)
Figure 1‑18 Projected car ownerhip per capita in EU-15

Source: Trends in vehicle and fuel technologies - Scenarios for future trends (Ref: CO_2015)

  • “Robust growth in car ownership may be tempered by congestion and lack of parking space in large cities.” (Ref: CO_0284)
  • “With shifting consumption patterns in developing and transitional countries, growth in vehicle ownership in non-OECD countries is expected to make up close to three-fifths of the global vehicle fleet by 2050; at the moment the non-OECD fleet is a quarter of the global fleet.” (Ref: CO_2017)
Figure 1‑19 Global Growth in Light Duty Vehicles[1] A tripling of the non-OECD fleet is foreseen by 2050 - [1] Cars, minivans, SUVs

Source: Hybrid Electric Vehicles (Ref: CO_2017)

Interactions within the Social Domain

Households structure and distribution

  • “Car ownership is an important determinant of passenger travel behaviour and it is fundamentally interconnected with residential location and decision-making regarding motorised trips. A number of travel surveys have conceded that persons in households located centrally in urban areas have fewer motorised trips than persons located in peri-urban areas.” (Ref: CO_5048)
  • “The most substantial changes in vehicle ownership occurred during the late 1960s through 1990, a period when a significant number of women entered the workforce, the number of licensed drivers increased rapidly, and disposable income grew. The average household in 1969 had 3.16 persons and 1.16 vehicles. Average household size in 1990 dropped to 2.56 persons, while the number of vehicles increased to 1.77 per household, exceeding the number of licensed drivers per household.” (Ref: CO_4012)


As mentioned above, car ownership plays a fundamental role with residential location.  Thus it is clear that car ownership is a determinant factor in urbanisation sprawl, allowing people to commute for longer distances.


  • “(...), while the historical patterns in vehicle ownership rates suggest that growing wealth is a powerful determinant of vehicle demand, policymakers may be able to slow the expansion of the vehicle stock through tax policies, promotion of public transport, and appropriate urban planning – an important area for future research.” (Ref: CO_2038)
  • “Over the very long run - five decades or more – societies face a fundamental choice about how their mobility patterns will develop. Some hold that in order to make mobility sustainable, people will have to be induced to live in significantly more dense agglomerations. According to this view, only by doing this will it be technologically and financial feasible to rely on public transport to a much greater degree than is generally the case today. To produce this change in living patterns, different forms of “carrots” (urban planning aimed at making such patterns more desirable) and “sticks” (making motor vehicle ownership much more expensive and complex) will be necessary.” (Ref: CO_1030)

Change of lifestyle and values

  • “Social values influence people's behaviour in many ways. As countries grow richer, people's values towards freedom of movement, environmental protection, and leisure time increase as well. The implications for transport demand depend on the magnitude and balance of these changes. Whilst the preference for free movement may push people to own larger and faster cars, awareness of environmental problems may work in the other direction.” (Ref: CO_5031)
  • “As motor vehicle ownership grew, travel costs declined and households dispersed, people organized their lives around increased mobility. The greatest growth in motorized travel has involved non-commute personal trips, including shopping, social and recreational travel, and family/personal business, (...).” (Ref: CO_5047)
  • “The greatest issue of uncertainty is the degree to which consumer preferences will continue to favour automobile travel. During the Twentieth Century, automobile transport and suburban housing were considered exciting and glamorous. There are signs that consumer attitudes are changing.” (Ref: CO_5047)
  • “A confluence of events - environmental worries, a preference for gadgets over wheels and the years-long economic doldrums - is pushing some teens and twentysomethings to opt out of what has traditionally been considered an American rite of passage: Owning a car.” (Ref: CO_5047)
  • “The car-sharing sector is growing in Europe for a number of reasons; including freedom from car ownership and implied costs, ease of use, inability to own a car outright, environmental awareness, and choice of vehicles.” (Ref: CO_0159)


  • “Low car ownership is inevitably associated with a high proportion of vulnerable road users – pedestrians, cyclists and motor cyclists – who account for most of the fatalities, and have much higher fatality rates per km travelled. Casualties are projected to rise if the world proceeds further down the high-mobility path, because in very low car ownership countries (0–10 cars per 1000 persons), a doubling (say) of road vehicles – and thus vehicle occupants – only marginally reduces the number of vulnerable road users.” (Ref: CO_0007)

Interactions with the Economy Domain


It can be expected that car ownership plays a certain role in facilitating employment opportunities, especially in those situations where public transport alternatives are not so numerous (e.g. small towns and rural areas).

Availability of public and private resources and investments in the transport sector

  • “Declining per capita vehicle ownership rates also has implications for transportation finance. Real (inflation adjusted) per capita fuel tax revenues are declining, so either tax rates must increase, alternative revenue sources must be provided, or transport investments must be reduced.” (Ref: CO_5047)
  • “(...) developing countries will face the challenge of building the infrastructure (roads, bridges, fuel delivery, etc.) needed to support the growth in vehicle ownership.” (Ref: CO_2038)

Fiscal policy

  • “Many governments tax vehicle purchases and most levy an annual tax on vehicle ownership or charge for an annual permit to drive on the roads.” (Ref: CO_2017)
  • “Several factors are taken into consideration while creating vehicle taxes. (...) In Denmark, ownership tax is based on the fuel economy, whereas in Germany, it depends on emission standards. In Sweden and the Netherlands, vehicle gross weight and fuel type are the criteria used to impose vehicle ownership tax. Vehicle ownership tax in France and the United Kingdom is based on CO2 emissions. In most European countries, vehicle ownership taxes depend on the engine model, the engine capacity, the fuel type, and the vehicle age or vehicle gross weight (Hirota et. al., 2003).” (Ref: CO_0212)

Interactions with the Environment Domain

Pollution level and emission standards

  • “The speed of vehicle ownership expansion in emerging market and developing countries has important implications for transport and environmental policies, as well as the global oil market.” (Ref: CO_2038)
  • “(...) many of the environmental concerns associated with the greater use of vehicles could presumably be strengthened by our projections, especially since future vehicle ownership growth will mostly take place in developing countries that have so far been able to deal with the environmental issues less successfully than advanced economies (World Bank, 2002).” (Ref: CO_2038)
  • “Reducing emissions from motor vehicles is an important component of an overall strategy for reducing air pollution, especially in cities in developing and transitional countries where population and vehicle ownership are growing rapidly.” (Ref: CO_2017)

Scarce resources of fossil fuels

  • “Private cars represent the dominant transport mean in road transport, accounting for 55.9% of total energy consumed in road transport in 2005.(...) Energy consumption by buses accounted for 1.5% of total energy in road transport in 2005 and motorcycles accounted for 3.3%.” (Ref: CO_1029)
  • “(...) the future strong growth in the vehicle stock in developing countries will lead to significant increases in oil demand from the transport sector. We project annual worldwide growth in highway fuel demand to be in the range of up to 2.5-2.8%.” (Ref: CO_2038)

Interactions with the Technology Domain

No particularly relevant interrelationships have been found.

Impacts on Mobility and Transport

Difficulties in predicting a significant increase in trips generation

  • “Statistics are abundant showing that household car ownership or car availability is positively correlated with trip generation (Kostyniuk and Kitamura 1986b; Levinson 1976; Supernak 1983), although the effect of car ownership may be exaggerated because trips by non-mechanized modes are not included in the analysis. Whether or not trip generation increases further if household car ownership continues to increase needs to be critically examined.” (Ref: CO_0196)
  • “It is logical that if an overall increase in household car ownership is primarily due to an increase in the number of cars owned by multi-car households, then its impact on trip generation may be limited.” (Ref: CO_0196)