Transportation of all types already accounts for more than one quarter of the world’s commercial energy use. That makes the rapid increase in the global transport sector, particularly the world’s vehicle fleet, a real concern. Motor vehicles – cars, trucks, buses, and scooters – account for nearly 80 percent of all transport-related energy .
Motor vehicles have brought enormous social and economic benefits. They have enabled flexibility in where people live and work, the rapid and timely distribution of manufactured goods, and ready access to a variety of services and leisure options. But the widespread use of vehicles also has real environmental and economic costs, which have ballooned as vehicle numbers have risen sharply in the past few decades. Vehicles are major sources of urban air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. They also represent an important threat to the economic security of many nations because of the need to import oil to fuel them. Currently, the transport sector consumes about one half of the world’s oil production, the bulk of it as motor fuel .
The adoption of cars as common items in family life and commerce began after World War II in developed countries. In 1950, there were only 70 million cars, trucks, and buses on the world’s roads. By 1994, there were about nine times that number, or 630 million. (See Vehicle Numbers Are Rising Dramatically.) Since about 1970, the global fleet has been growing at the rate of about 16 million vehicles per year. This expansion has been accompanied by a similar linear growth in fuel consumption . If this kind of linear growth continues, by the year 2025 there will be well over 1 billion vehicles on the world’s roads .
Clearly, there is an enormous potential worldwide for increases in vehicle use. Per capita car ownership is high in the wealthy nations of North America, Europe, and Japan, but it is still low in most developing nations. (See Motor Vehicle Use Is Highest in Developed Countries.) Growth potential is especially great in the rapidly developing economies of Asia. In China, for example, there are only about 8 vehicles per 1,000 persons, and in India, only 7 per 1,000 persons; by contrast, there are about 750 motor vehicles per 1,000 persons in the United States .