According to a study by the auto trade journal Ward’s, the total amount of cars on the road worldwide surpassed one billion in 2010. The staggering number, up from 980 million at the end of 2009, sheds new light on the global demand for automobiles and the increasingly dangerous reliance on oil.
Ward’s study examined government-reported car registrations as well as vehicle-population trends to discover that there are now 1.015 billion cars on the road today. The study took into account “light-, medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses registered worldwide, but that does not include off-road, heavy-duty vehicles.”
The United States is still the world’s most prominent user of automobiles, with a total car population of almost 240 million, close to one car for every 1.3 people in the country. The sudden surge in automobile ownership, however, is not solely the fault of the U.S., whose number of cars only grew by 1% last year. China is responsible for a massive and sudden increase in car ownership; last year, car registrations were up by 27.5%, bringing the country’s number of cars to 78 million. According to Ward’s, the increase in car ownership in China accounts for more than half of the global number of cars. For the first time, China has surpassed Japan for the world’s second-largest amount of cars.
In addition to the massive amount of cars registered in China last year, several other countries have also experienced an increase in car population. Last year, India reached the 20 million mark in car ownership, signifying a growth of 8.9%. Brazil is also responsible for a significant increase, having added 2.5 million cars last year.
Even so, the countries that have experienced sudden increases in car ownership have a ways to go to catch up with the per-capita car ownership of the U.S. China, which has a human population of well over one billion people, currently has 78 million cars registered, equaling one car for every 17 people. India, which has the world’s second largest human population and also witnessed a sharp increase in car ownership last year, only has one car for every 53 people.
As the human population continues to multiply rapidly, the amount of cars on the road is expected to continue to grow right along with it. A study by the International Transport Forum predicts that the worldwide number of cars could reach 2.5 billion by 2050. One bright spot in the amount of cars currently being produced, and no doubt in the future, is that fuel efficiency standards have recently gotten much stricter, and the amount of hybrid and electric cars on the road is expected to increase. The U.S. government has committed to fuel efficiency standards of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, a far cry from the gas-guzzling SUVs prominent on the road today.
Even with stricter fuel efficiency standards, however, the worldwide demand for oil is still great. A study by UC Davis’ Institute of Transportation Studies analyzed what impact over 2 billion cars could have on the environment and the need for oil. Currently, a worldwide total of 87 million barrels of oil are produced daily, most of which comes from conventional sources. Having over 2 billion cars on the road will require a total production of at least 120 million barrels of oil every day, much of which will need to be derived from unconventional sources.
With the news that there are over one billion cars on the road, a number that is expected to rise dramatically within the next forty years, it’s time to reevaluate the importance of cars and the environmentally disastrous reliance on oil. Transportation currently accounts for 23% of the world’s greenhouse gases, and that number is only going to keep rising until cars and other methods of transportation can be made more environmentally friendly.
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