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February 14, 2011 / clayliesstill

Who owns the most cars in Europe?

One of the aspects of the current (and semi-civilized) debate around the ways to improve conditions for cycling is the unfavourable comparison of Britain with it’s European neighbours, specifically the Netherlands.

I’ve already looked at how data on cycling levels can and is manipulated.

Car ownership is another statistic deployed to show how terrible things are in Britain compared with elsewhere.

For instance, one cycle blogger writes:

“DfT Vehicle Licensing Statistics show that there has been a continued growth in the number of licensed cars in Great Britain (an increase of 25% between 1997 and 2009).”

Clearly travel by private automobile is still seen as something inherently more desirable than travel by bike.

So what about car ownership elsewhere in Europe? Well, I don’t have access to international figures on car ownership to 2009, but here is a graph of the increase in the car fleets in the EU-15 from 1997 to 2007.

So yes, car ownership has increased in Britain, but we sit in about middle table, slightly below the Dutch, whose car fleet increased by 25% to Britain’s 24%.

Amazingly, the German car fleet has remained static, whereas the Greek one has doubled.

Obviously this is not the whole story. We can also looks at the number of cars per person.

Once again, Britain sits mid table. Only Luxembourg and Italy are real outliers, each having well over half a car per person. Germany is also high and perhaps demonstrates that the car market there – at around 0.5 cars per person – was saturated ten years ago.

What do we learn? Britain is, when compared to other EU countries, pretty mediocre. But the situation is bad in many countries, perhaps worst in Spain, where the car fleet increased 42% in 10 years and has now exceeds Britain in cars per head.

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