Passenger cars: what they are and why they are so important

For over a hundred years, the private car has transformed modern society by providing independence and freedom of mobility. Cars are our number one source of mobility, taking the average European almost 12,000 kilometres a year.

What are passenger cars?

  • The European classification system defines passenger cars as “vehicles designed and constructed for the carriage of passengers and comprising no more than eight seats in addition to the driver’s seat, and having a maximum mass not exceeding 3.5 tonnes”.
    • They are classified as the ‘M1’ category.
  • There are many different kinds of cars: including sports, luxury, family-oriented, small cars and sports utility vehicles (SUVs).

Why are cars so important?

  • For over a hundred years, the private car has transformed modern society by providing independence and freedom of mobility.
  • Mobility is becoming more and more important due to ever-increasing distances between home, work, educational institutions, shopping and leisure facilities.
  • Cars are our number one source of mobility, taking the average European almost 12,000 kilometres a year.
  • Over 70% of journeys are made by car – be it private car, taxi or carsharing.
  • Without individual mobility, adequate participation in social and economic life would not be possible in many cases, particularly for people living in remote areas, the elderly and those with disabilities.
  • People living in urban areas may rely on taxis, carsharing or on-demand services instead of, or as a complement to, their own private car.
  • Passenger car travel enables home care and medical assistance, as well as a range of other emergency services.
  • Job-related mobility is of particular importance, with about a half of all vehicle kilometres travelled in the EU being related to employment.
  • The budgets of the EU member states receive €398.4 billion per year from the sale and use of passenger cars.

Cars are our number one source of mobility, taking the average European almost 12,000 kilometres a year. Over 70% of journeys are made by car – be it private car, taxi or carsharing.

In figures

  • 243 million – There are 243 million passenger cars on the EU’s roads today.
  • 11.5 years – The average age of cars in the EU is more than 11.5 years now.
  • 22 new cars were registered per 1,000 inhabitants in the EU in 2020.
  • 9.9 million – In 2020, 9.9 million passenger cars were sold in the EU, a decrease of 23.7% compared to the previous year.
  • 135 – There are 135 car assembly plants in Europe.
  • 10.8 million passenger cars were made in the European Union in 2020.
  • 5,189,538 European cars were exported worldwide in 2020, worth over €121 billion.
  • 25% of all cars produced around the world are built in Europe.
  • 47.5% – Almost half of new passenger cars sold are powered by petrol.
  • 24.5% – Alternatively-powered vehicles (battery electric, plug-in hybrid, hybrid and alternative fuels) together represent 24.5% of new car sales in the EU, but only 4.6% of all passenger cars on the road today.
  • -22.4% – In 2020, average new car emissions were 108.2g CO2/km, a 22.4% decrease since 2010.

Alternatively-powered vehicles (battery electric, plug-in hybrid, hybrid and alternative fuels) together represent 24.5% of new car sales in the EU, but only 4.6% of all passenger cars on the road today.

Content type Fact
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