China’s vehicle stock has grown at an extraordinary pace in the past three decades, along with the nation’s GDP. In 1990, China had just 5.5 million registered motor vehicles. At the end of 2021, this figure had risen to over 395 million.2
In 2021, 21 million new motor vehicles were sold in China, down from a high of 24 million in 2017,3 making it the world’s largest vehicle market by far. (The United States was second, with roughly 17 million vehicles sold in 2019, and under 15 million annually in 2020–2021.4) China’s 2021 sales represented the first year of positive overall growth since 2018.5 Vehicle sales peaked in 2018 at over 28 million. Passenger vehicles accounted for 21 million, showing growth in 2021 but also still below the peak in 2019.6 SUVs and crossovers have shown strong growth in market share reaching 46% in 2021 despite fuel economy regulations.7
China’s vehicle stock is projected to grow significantly in the years ahead.8 At present, there is roughly one motor vehicle for every four people in China, compared with more than one motor vehicle for every two people in the European Union and almost one motor vehicle for every person in the US.10
China has more than 100 vehicle manufacturers.1 Many of these vehicle manufacturers are owned or heavily supported by provincial and local governments.
Traffic congestion is a major problem in many Chinese cities. Beijing, Chongqing, Changchun, Guiyang and Shanghai were rated the worst cities for traffic congestion in 2021.11