The Sun is the main driver of climate change. Not you. Not carbon dioxide.


Contributed by Robert Lyman © 2016

Those who believe that humans are causing catastrophic global warming often claim that the world will soon no longer need oil as a transportation fuel because of increased fuel economy, reduced vehicle ownership and the emergence of all-electric “plug-in” vehicles as a major share of the world vehicle market. To achieve their goals, they insist that all-electric vehicles must constitute 60% of new vehicle sales by 2040, 24 years from now.


There is no doubt that, during the past decade, there have been significant improvements in the fuel economy of new light-duty vehicles. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, since 2004 the fuel economy of cars has increased by 23% and that of light duty trucks (SUVs) by 27%.  These improvements will probably continue and extend to heavy-duty trucks, although not at the same rates.


To test the other claims, however, one can refer to the statistics published by the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers (OICA). On its web site

(, OICA publishes a wide range of data, including those showing the trends over the past ten year period for which full information is available (2005 to 2014) on vehicle use and sales. To simplify the results, I summarize in the following tables the data under different categories for years 2005, 2009, and 2014. 2009 is both the mid-point of the period and the year during which the effect of the 2008 global crisis was very strongly felt.


Table 1

Personal Vehicles in Use (millions)

Region                                2005               2009               2014

                  Europe                                 277                  298                  328

NAFTA                                 165                  173                  168

South and Central

America                                 37                    47                    63

Asia, Oceania&

Middle East                           157                  207                  318

Africa                                      18                    23                    29

World                                    654                   748                 907


These figures reveal several interesting points. The trends in terms of personal vehicle (PV) use vary widely from one region to another. In the NAFTA area (i.e. Canada, the United States and Mexico), total vehicle use grew from 2005 to 2009, but then the consequence of the financial crisis and perhaps other trends (such as the increasing tendency of younger people to live in city cores without owning cars) have been a reduction in PV use. North American PV use still increased by 3 million, or 1.8%, over the decade. In every other region, PV use consistently grew. Even in Europe, about which one hears so much about energy transformation, PV use grew by 51 million vehicles, or 18.4%. The largest growth by far was in Asia, Oceania and the Middle East, where PV use grew by 161 million vehicles, more than doubling the 2005 total. The growth in this region’s PV use in one decade almost equaled the total number of vehicles in use in the NAFTA region in 2005. For the world as a whole, total PV use grew by 253 million, or about 39%. This was during a period marked by the worst recession since the Great Depression.


Trends in PV use, of course, do not tell the whole story. One should examine also the trends in the use of all road motor vehicles including light and heavy trucks and buses. The following table shows statistics on the use of all road vehicles over the 2005-2014 period.


Table 2

All Road Vehicles in Use (millions)

Region                                 2005               2009               2014

Europe                                    322                 348                  382

NAFTA                                    278                 299                  317

South and Central

America                                    50                   64                    87

Asia, Oceania &

Middle East                            217                 276                  408

Africa                                        26                   34                    43

World                                     893               1,021                1,236

The number of trucks in use is a good index of the volume of commercial trade, so it is notable that, while the statistics for all regions show growth (especially in Asia), in most cases the rates of growth for commercial vehicles (CV) is slower than for PVs.


OICA also publishes a set of statistics that provide an insight into the potential for future growth in vehicle use. This is the “motorization rate”, or the number of vehicles (i.e. both PVs and CVs) per thousand inhabitants.


Table 3

Motorization Rate (2014)

Region                                     Rate

Europe                                   464

NAFTA                                    661

South and Central

America                                  176

Asia, Oceania &

Middle East                            100

Africa                                          44

World                                       180


This shows how “vehicle-centric” the North American economies are, with two-thirds as many vehicles as there are people. The reduction in PV use there from 2009 to 2014 made only a small dent in the high use rates. In Asia, even the immense increases in vehicle use over the past decade have not raised vehicle usage rates there anywhere close to the motorization rates of even Latin America, let alone Europe and the NAFTA region. The potential for growth in vehicle usage in Asia and then Africa is enormous, economic conditions and government policies permitting.


The final set of OICA statistics to note show trends are new vehicle sales. These are shown in Table 4.


Table 4

Total New Vehicle Sales (million)

Region                               2005               2009               2014  

Europe                                 21                    19                    19

NAFTA                                 20                    13                    20

South and Central

 America                                  3                      6                       6

Asia, Oceania &

Middle East                          20                    28                     43

Africa                                      1                       1                        2

World                                    66                     66                    88


These sales figures show more clearly how the global financial crisis dampened new vehicles sales in Europe and North America, while sales continued to grow in all other parts of the world. Even in North America, however, new vehicle sales have fully recovered to their pre-crisis levels.


The final set of figures to consider is those of all-electric vehicles. OICA does not report on vehicle sales to distinguish sales of internal combustion engines from all-electric or hybrid vehicles. Most online sources of statistics on EV sales focus on monthly changes, especially in the U.S. and European markets, so it is difficult to get an accurate sense of global EV sales. The Statistics Portal is one source that provides data on the worldwide number of electric vehicles since 2011 when EVs began to be sold in large numbers. The global totals this source quotes are 100,000 in 2012, 200,000 in 2013, 405,000 in 2014 and 740,000 in 2015.


Probably the best source of free data is available online through Clean Technica here:

Clean Technica reports that global annual sales of plug-in electric vehicles were 206,000 in 2013, 307,000 in 2014 and 430,000 (forecast) in 2015. In six countries (Norway, the Netherlands, Iceland, Estonia, Sweden and Japan) do all-electric vehicles have more than 1% of market share.


This extremely rapid growth in sales from small beginnings has been aided by generous taxpayer subsidies in North America and Europe, including U.S. $7,500 per vehicle in the United States, up to CDN $14,000 in Canada, and up to 5,000 pounds in the United Kingdom. The duration of those subsidies is increasingly in question, partly because of taxpayer resistance in European countries and because of the new Trump Administration in the United States.


What can one make of the available statistics on sales of internal combustion vs. all-electric vehicles?


  • Of 907 million personal vehicles on the road worldwide in 2014, 405,000 were EV’s. EVs constituted 0.04 % of the PVs on the road globally.
  • Sales of all-electric trucks and buses are negligible.
  • Of 88 million new vehicle sales in the world in 2014, 307,000 were EVs. That is, the EV share of new vehicle sales was 0.35%. In 2015, that probably rose to one half of one percent.
  • To reach 60% of present PV sales by 2040, EV sales would have to increase to 120 times today’s level.
  • The potential growth in total vehicle sales globally is immense, especially in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The likelihood that EV sales will constitute 60% of the much-increased sales of all vehicles by 2040 approaches zero.
  • Internal combustion engines, powered by petroleum fuels, will be the dominant source of motive power for a very long time.



1 Comment

  1. Howard Dewhirst

    This post from Notalot of people should help!
    and my summary
    To achieve UK target for 100% electric cars and vans by 20150 (ie excl LGV & HGV fleets), the UK alone would need to acquire:
    • Twice the total world cobalt production
    • Almost the whole worldwide production of neodymium
    • Almost 75% of world lithium production
    • Almost half the world’s copper production
    • And an increase electricity production by 20%
    This takes no account of the costs of mining, refining, transporting and fabricating these additional quantities.
    Nor of the cost of the required new infrastructure – for wind power, a global year’s supply of copper and ten year’s supply of neodymium; for solar, thirty year’s current global supply of tellurium …
    And of course, wind and solar would require lots and lots of ‘steel, aluminium, cement and glass.’.

    Meanwhile, what would the other countries and their 2 billion cars do?
    And then there are the lorries, trains and shipping …

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