4.4.1 - Preeminence of the Car in Emerging Countries

Version 9


    Vehicle sales and registrations are growing at a greater rate in emerging countries than in western nations, in correlation with the progression of the GDP. According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD/SMP), there will be 1.3 billion vehicles in the global car fleet in 2030 and over 2 billion in 2050, compared to 1 billion today. This growth will essentially be concentrated in developing countries.


    Country or zone

    Sales of new cars in 2010

    (in millions of units)

    Growth rate




    11 %



    -1 %

    United States


    12 %



    -9 %



    8 %



    17 %



    6 %















    A necessity driven by unbridled urbanization and industrialization


    In emerging countries the car is often the only way to keep up with the rapid transformation of urban and economic landscapes: sprawling megapoles; sprouting boom towns; rapid construction of office and residential buildings; growth of factories and business districts; urban sprawl in rural areas. In most cases public transport is not keeping pace with the explosive growth of urbanization and industrialization. The car then becomes the surest way, if not the only way, to commute between home and workplace.


    Example: The population of Beijing has grown 50 % in 10 years and 150 % in twenty years to reach a total of 22 million inhabitants. Of these 22 million, 9 % (2 million) live in the city center in an area of 93 km2, 50 % (11 million) in the inner suburbs and new suburbs on the periphery, which cover 3,500 km2, and 41 % (9 million) beyond this zone. Over such distances the bicycle, the traditional mode of transport in the old city of Beijing, is no longer an option. The car has rapidly taken over, bringing Beijing’s 6 ring roads (a 7th is under construction) to saturation point daily. In September 2009, the daily newspaper China Daily indicated that there were more than 2,000 additional new cars daily joining the traffic gridlock of the Chinese capital.







    Growth rate


    Beijing’s automobile fleet (in millions of vehicles)





    74 %


    Mobility under pressure from real estate


    Emerging countries are undergoing the same phenomenon that occurred in numerous North American, European and Japanese metropolises: the more the city develops, the more the city center is the object of land and property speculation, pushing the poorer population out into the suburbs and increasing the commuter traffic between home and workplace. In developed countries public transport can absorb a large part of this commuter traffic. In emerging countries public transport struggles to compete efficiently with the private car. The correlation is even stronger between the cost of real estate and car traffic.


    Example: Rio de Janeiro is one of the world’s cities where the cost of real estate has seen the sharpest rise in recent years. In 2011, Rio rose from 32nd place to 17th in the table of the highest rental prices (ECA International barometer). In this context the population of the suburbs has increased far more quickly than that of the city center, and the automobile fleet has grown at a rapid pace.


    Progression of property prices, the population and automobile fleet of Rio de Janeiro




    Growth rate


    Growth rate


    Automobile fleet (in millions of vehicles) (1)


    5 %

    19 %

    Average price of a square meter (in Euro) (2)


    35 %

    155 %

    Population of Rio (in millions of inhabitants) (3)



    3 %

    Population of Rio and its agglomeration (in millions of inhabitants) (4)



    10 %


    (1) Source: Detran (Departamento Estadual de Transito)

    (2) Source: index FipeZAP

    (3) Source: Census 2005 and 2010 (growth rate measured between 2005 and 2010)

    (5) Source: UN Urban agglomerations (growth rate measured between 2005 and 2010)


    The car, a marker of social status


    The car in emerging countries is an essential means of transport in an economic and urban environment under rapid expansion. It is also the mobile symbol of greater social status. Personal and family success is reflected by the number of cylinders or some famous brand badge. During the Shanghai Motor Show in April 2011, Olivier Henry, Head of New Product Positioning with Citroën, evoked the importance of this lever in the buying behavior of a Chinese consumer, where the future purchase must be approved and agreed by family and friends: "by the entire social circle (ganxi) of each individual who determines the purchase. The question of how one appears; of self-image that one is giving is crucial" (1). Likewise in Brazil the cheaper mass-produced popular cars (carros populares) - part of a government impetus to encourage individual mobility - are slowly losing ground as the standard of living rises, as the upper and middle classes burgeon. Their market share has gone from 70 %, at the beginning of the 2000s to 50 % in 2010, while the sales of premium European and Japanese models have quadrupled between 2006 and 2010.

    (1) Source: Terrafemina.com; "Shanghai Motor Show: the automobile boom in China" (April 2011).


    In the so-called developed countries, the symbolic importance of the car is still all pervading. But it is beginning to blur and fade due to several factors: development of the offer of public transport ever more competitive and efficient, which makes the car a mode, amongst others, of urban and inter-urban transport, also the rise in the cost of fuel, and lastly the increasingly upbeat image, cool and socially responsible, socially enlightened image which is associated with green transport (tramway, bicycle and bus…) and to sharing schemes (car-sharing, self-service bicycles).


    Example: In 2011, the Europcar Transportation and Mobility Observatory conducted a survey of 6,122 motorists in 7 European countries. According to this survey 43 % of European car owners in general - and 47 % of urban drivers in cities of 200,000 inhabitants or more - say they are considering giving up one of their cars, up seven points from 2008. Half of them say it is for environmental reasons and 84 % for cost reasons. Overall 82 % of European drivers say they use their car less and drive more slowly for ecological reasons.