Indicator Assessment

Size of the vehicle fleet in Europe

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-141-en
  Also known as: TERM 032
Published 22 Nov 2018 Last modified 11 May 2021
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  • The level of car ownership in the EU-28 area is growing rapidly, especially in the EU-13, where the size of the fleet in countries with relatively lower car ownership levels is increasing. 
  • Increasing private vehicle ownership has proven to lead to increased usage of private vehicles and might have the opposite effect on public transport usage in the future. However, the number of buses/coaches per capita increased by 3.6 % over the period 2000-2016.
  • The number of trucks per unit of GDP (truck intensity) decreased slightly between 2005 and 2016, and is generally higher in the EU-13, with Bulgaria, Poland and Greece displaying the highest values in 2016.
  • In the EU-28, the percentage of diesel cars in the total car fleet continues to increase. In 2016, 42 % of the EU-28 car fleet had diesel engines. This 'dieselisation' is particularly high in France (70 %), followed by Lithuania (65 %), Luxembourg (64 %) and Belgium (60 %). 

Vehicle ownership and truck intensity

Passengers cars, buses, coaches
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Passenger car ownership

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Trucks per unit of GDP at current market prices

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Dieselisation (share of diesel cars in the total passenger car fleet)

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Passenger transport vehicles

Car ownership in the EU-28 area increased considerably between 2000 and 2016, growing from 411 cars per 1 000 inhabitants to 505, an average increase of 1.2 % per year. The corresponding values for 2005 and 2010 were 456 and 478 cars per 1 000 inhabitants, respectively. The average number of passenger cars per capita also increased during the same period, particularly in the EU-13, following economic growth there. However, in the older Member States, this figure increased only marginally over the last 5 years. Despite this increase, car ownership in the EU-13 remains considerably lower than that in the old EU-15. Increasing private vehicle ownership often leads to increased transport demand and subsequent environmental pressures, as the costs related to vehicle use are relatively low and many cost items are fixed (e.g. depreciation, insurance and holder’s tax).

In the EU-28 area, the main factors underpinning the increase in the number of passenger cars per capita are linked to the economic situation of companies and particulars, together with fiscal incentives. Company cars make up about 50 % of new car sales in Europe (Copenhagen Economics, 2010). In Germany, Europe's biggest market for cars, about 64 % of new car sales were registered to companies in 2014 (Kraftfahrt‑Bundesamt, 2015). Given that many of these cars will enter the second-hand market once their lease is finished, policy incentives (including subsidies) that influence the choice of company car also have an impact on a country's entire car stock. The other main economic factor is the real income of car buyers relative to car prices. In recent years, this has probably resulted in decreased demand, as most salaries in Europe have fallen in terms of real disposable income. However, vehicle purchase prices have also fallen steadily in relation to average consumer prices, making it easier for people to afford a car (see TERM020). So overall, the number of passenger cars in the EU-28 continued to increase over the period. The growth of passenger cars per capita is also influenced by other important factors, including (a) a decreasing number of people per household, (b) an increasing number of cars per household and (c) increases in the average travel distance, lower accessibility to and flexibility of public transport, and changes in lifestyle patterns.

The strong growth is slowing down in most EU countries, as the number of cars per capita is already relatively high. This can be explained by the fact that households may need one or two cars, but generally not more. The economic crisis that has hit Europe since early 2009 may also have contributed to this slow-down. In contrast, countries with lower numbers of cars per capita show rapid increases in vehicle ownership. The latter applies to the new Member States, but also to some EU-15 countries. Only in France was a decrease in the number of passenger cars per 1 000 inhabitants observed over the 2005–2016 period.

The share of diesel cars in the entire passenger car fleet continuously increased in most Member States between 2005 and 2016. In the entire EU-28 area, it increased from 27 % to 42 %, whereas the percentage for 2010 was 35 %. This 'dieselisation' is particularly high in France (70 %) and Lithuania (65 %), with Luxembourg (64 %) and Belgium (60 %). From an energy efficiency point of view, this means that less energy is consumed for the same transport activity (expressed in passenger-kilometres or tonne-kilometres). From a pollutant emissions point of view, 'dieselisation' results in a considerable increase in nitrogen oxides and particulate matter emissions, both strongly linked with poor air quality levels in EU cities. Some cities in Europe showed an increase in concentrations of NO2 measured close to traffic, mainly due to the increasing number of diesel vehicles (see TERM004).

Over the last few years, alternative propulsion technologies have slowly penetrated the European vehicle fleet (TERM034). The number of new alternatively fuelled cars in the fleet is still very small (around 3 % of total new passenger cars registered in the EU in 2017) and electric vehicles (EVs), whereas the share of electric cars continues to constitute only a very small fraction of new registrations in the EU‑28 (1.5 %). However, sales of 'pure' battery EVs increased by 51 % in 2017, compared with 2016, continuing a trend that has been increasing since 2008 (13 % increase in 2016, compared with 2015). Financial incentives, increased public acceptability and market availability, among other factors, are behind this rise.

The average level of powered two-wheeler (including mopeds and motorcycles) ownership in the EU-28 area increased by about 38 % between 2000 and 2016, whereas the increase between 2005 and 2016 amounted to just around 26 %. The number of buses and coaches per 1 000 inhabitants increased by about 3.6 % between 2005 and 2016, whereas this number remained almost constant over the 2000-2005 period.

Freight transport vehicles

The number of trucks per unit of GDP (truck intensity) decreased slightly between 2005 and 2016 and is considerably higher in the EU-13 than in the old EU-15 Member States, with Bulgaria, Poland and Greece displaying the highest values in 2016. The trend in 'own account' transport (i.e. operations in which a company transports its own goods from one place to another) in the EU-15 has declined over the years. On the other hand, EU-13 Member States have a relatively higher share of 'own account' road freight transport and, consequently, a lower share of 'hire or reward' transport (i.e. when the transport operator is not the owner of the goods) compared with EU-15 Member States. In principle, 'hire or reward' transport companies would be in a better position to pick up different loads at the end of their routes, reducing the amount of journeys where they run empty. This means that a higher 'own account' share will require more trucks for the same amount of transport, which could explain the higher truck intensity in the EU-13 Member States.

The high number of trucks per unit of GDP observed in the Baltic States and the newest EU Member States is related to low GDP levels and the relatively high (road) freight transport intensity. Malta and Cyprus also show relatively high numbers of trucks per unit of GDP, which could be explained by the absence of alternative inland freight transport modes (there are no railways on these islands).

Supporting information

Indicator definition

Vehicle ownership is defined as the number of road vehicles (passenger cars and two-wheelers) per number of inhabitants. The numbers of buses and coaches per number of inhabitants has also been included. The indicator can be extended to include other vehicles specified by passenger transport mode (i.e. coaches, rail, maritime, air), although these are not privately owned.

Freight transport intensity is defined as the number of vehicles per unit of GDP, specified by freight transport mode (road, rail, inland, maritime).

The share of diesel cars in the entire passenger car fleet is defined as the number of diesel vehicles per total number of passenger cars.


Vehicle ownership is expressed as the number of vehicles per 1 000 inhabitants. Freight transport intensity is expressed as the number of heavy duty trucks per million euros of GDP in constant 2010 prices. Dieselisation is expressed as the percentage of diesel vehicles in the entire passenger car fleet.


Policy context and targets

Context description

The level of vehicle ownership is closely related to car use and thus volume of mobility. Especially in urban areas, it is also related to traffic congestion and the higher concentration of air pollutants in the atmosphere.


There are no specific objectives or targets related to the size and composition of the vehicle fleet. Policy objectives are rather set with respect to the average age and environmental performance of the fleet.

Related policy documents

No related policy documents have been specified



Methodology for indicator calculation

For passenger transport, vehicle ownership is calculated by dividing the total number of vehicles in each vehicle category (i.e. passenger cars, buses and coaches, and two-wheelers) by the number of inhabitants in each country or country group. For freight transport, truck intensity is calculated by dividing the total number of trucks (i.e. light and heavy duty vehicles, and freight trains) by the total GDP in each country or country group. The share of diesel passenger cars in the passenger car fleet is calculated by dividing the number of diesel passenger cars by the total passenger car fleet.

Methodology for gap filling

Data gap filling was needed for the dieselisation figure. Where Eurostat data were missing, ACEA/ANFAC, national statistics, TRACCS and interpolation were used.

Methodology references

No methodology references available.



Methodology uncertainty

No methodology uncertainty has been specified.

Data sets uncertainty

Data are considered reliable as they are derived from official statistics (DG MOVE, Eurostat).

Rationale uncertainty

No rationale uncertainty has been specified.

Data sources

Other info

DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Efficiency indicator (Type C - Are we improving?)
Indicator codes
  • TERM 032
Frequency of updates
Updates are scheduled once per year
EEA Contact Info


Geographic coverage

Temporal coverage



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