Monday, January 30th, 2023

How many light vehicles will be on the world’s roads in 2050?

Graphic showing the growth in light vehicle ownership, and how it might fall away

When I posted my prediction on the proportion of zero emissions vehicles on the road by 2050, I didn’t include absolute numbers. I said it could be as high as 75%, but 75% of what?

I’ve seen estimates putting the number of light vehicles (cars and vans, more or less) around 1.8-2 billion by 2035. My models, which are driven by factors like population, urbanisation, sales growth, policy predictions and so on, aren’t far off that.

Head into the 2040s, and total vehicle numbers continue to increase. Then something weird happens. By 2050 the global fleet is about the same size as it was a decade earlier – 1.7-1.9 billion vehicles. There’s a distinct peak in 2045.

This quirk comes about through population decline in several big markets – China, Japan and the EU – coupled with shifts away from personal transport to public. Not only is the pool of people who could buy a car shrinking in these markets, but also the proportion who want to. There is also an anticipation people will hold onto their fossil fuel vehicles for longer, but these won’t be replaced at the same rate as they’re lost. I’ll go into this in more detail in a separate post.

There is an X-factor in this, which is Africa. Whether its rapid population growth translates into “more people owning cars and vans” remains to be seen. I’ll dig into this in more depth over the coming months.

Which brings us back to the original question: how many oil burning cars will be on the world’s roads by 2050? Assuming my original suggestion 25% of the global fleet is using fossil fuel, 2050 will still see half a billion vans and cars emitting noxious fumes from their exhaust pipe.

As always, this is a work in progress. Feel free to comment with your thoughts etc on LinkedIn.

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My name is Ross Hori

I'm a freelance writer, designer and photographer. By day I create articles, features and reports. At night I take photos and write fiction. Find out more.