The global auto industry crossed an important threshold last year when the number of cars on the world’s roads surpassed one billion. This year, despite the growing economic gloom, worldwide car sales increased 5 percent in the first half of the year, according to Scotiabank.
While sales have slowed in the developed world, emerging markets continue to grow rapidly. Russia, for example, posted a 27 percent jump in July car sales from a year earlier.
That difference in growth rates is changing the standings within the world’s 10 biggest auto markets. Once formidable car nations are seeing their positions slip, even as other countries are moving up the rankings. Auto majors are increasingly trying to capitalize on this shift, opening new plants in emerging markets and developing cheaper, smaller cars to suit the demands of new consumers.
The rise of new car nations is also reshaping the industry and its brands. India’s Tata Motors owns Jaguar Land Rover and China’s Geely owns Volvo. Chinese and Indian car brands are selling their models in markets as far away as Brazil.
We’ve put together a list of the world’s 10 biggest auto markets based on forecasted new light-vehicle sales for 2011 from the consulting firm J.D. Power and Associates. We’ve also gathered additional figures and projections from public sources such as country vehicle associations and firms such as the Boston Consulting Group and Scotiabank.
So, which countries have the world’s biggest auto markets? Click ahead to find out.
By: Rajeshni Naidu-Ghelani(Posted: Sept. 12, 2011)
2011 sales forecast: 2 million
2010 vehicles sold: 2.1 million
Estimated growth: -6%
Home to some of the world’s most iconic car brands, autos are a big part of the Italian identity. Yet, a steep decline between 2001 and 2005 has left the Italian car market struggling to recover its premiere status. A slowing economy and the Euro debt crisis has made things worse with auto sales falling 28 percent in the first quarter of 2011. In fact, sales have fallen for 13 months in a row up to June of this year.
Fiat is by far Italy’s largest carmaker. Fiat models account for three of the five best-selling cars in the country. More than 160,000 Fiat Puntos (pictured) — Italy’s most popular car — were sold in 2010. But Fiat has also suffered from the slowdown. In the first six months of 2011, Fiat was the worst performer among Europe's top six automakers in terms of sales.
Italy’s car industry luckily doesn’t depend entirely on the domestic market. Car exports account for over 50 percent of production. Italy’s iconic brand Ferrari, for example, saw record-breaking sales in the first half of the year driven by overseas demand, especially in China. The carmaker posted net profits for the first half of 2011 that were 23 percent higher than the previous year, while sales rose nearly 12 percent in the same period. Sales in China rose 116 percent in the first six months of 2011, while sales in the U.S. rose 23 percent. According to news reports, the company is now considering an IPO in Hong Kong.
2011 sales forecast: 2.2 million
2010 vehicles sold: 2.2 million
Estimated growth: -1.8%
The UK is a world leader in the auto industry and the original home to iconic brands such as Rolls Royce, Bentley, Jaguar and Rover. The country’s famous “Motorsport Valley” in Southern England is home to over 4,500 motorsport engineering firms. In fact, eight of the 12 teams competing in the Formula 1 racing championship are based in Britain.
But, despite a booming motor sports industry, the country’s car market has been struggling to recover since the global financial crisis. Car sales fell 3.5 percent in July over the previous year, with sales over the first seven months of 2011 down nearly 7 percent.
Famous British brands have been bought over by foreign companies in recent years. Bentley was bought by Volkswagen in 1998, the Rolls Royce brand is operated by BMW and Jaguar and Land Rover, which used to be owned by Ford, were bought by India’s Tata Motor in 2008.
Foreign car brands have also done well in Britain’s domestic market. American automaker Ford makes three of the top 10 selling cars and is celebrating 100 years since it first entered the British car market this year. Ford’s Fiesta (pictured) is the most popular car in the UK, with the company selling 106,000 units in 2010.
2011 sales forecast: 2.4 million
2010 vehicles sold: 1.9 million
Estimated growth: 20%
Russia is the fastest growing major auto market so far this year. Car sales surged 56 percent in the first six months of 2011 compared to the same period last year. The country surpassed Britain this year to become Europe’s third-largest auto market. It could soon surpass Europe’s second-largest auto market France and Boston Consulting Group estimates Russia will overtake Germany to become Europe’s largest car market by 2018.
In 2010, Russia’s car sales were spurred by the government’s cash for clunkers scheme, under which drivers could turn in a car 10 years or older and receive a $1,700 discount for a Russian-made car. That incentive helped boost Russia’s flagship carmaker AvtoVAZ (pictured) with sales surging 42 percent in 2010.
The most popular car in Russia is the Lada Riva, with nearly 140,000 units sold last year.
Four of the top 10 cars by sales are Lada models. The Ford Focus is the highest selling foreign car model in the country coming in at number five and Ford was the first foreign carmaker to start manufacturing in Russia in 2002.
2011 sales forecast: 2.6 million
2010 vehicles sold: 2.6 million
Estimated growth: 0.8%
France is Europe’s second-largest car producer. The country’s auto sector is a key driver of the French economy and the leading employer. The top two national manufacturers, PSA Peugeot Citroen (pictured) and Renault, account for over half of the domestic car market. They make nine of the 10 best selling cars in the country. Peugeot’s 206 model and its derivatives are the most popular vehicle in France with 198,975 units sold in 2010.
Despite a strong automobile industry, French car sales fell nearly 6 percent in July, compared to the same period in 2010. The drop is the fourth consecutive month of declining sales. The auto industry has been suffering from an economic downturn after second quarter GDP was flat.
The industry has also suffered as the government’s car incentive scheme ended last December. Under the scheme, begun in 2009, French car owners could trade in vehicles 10 years or older and receive a $1,450 subsidy towards the purchase of a new one.
2011 sales forecast: 2.9 million
2010 vehicles sold: 2.7 million
Estimated growth: 7%
India is expected to become the world’s third biggest car market by 2020, according to J.D. Power and Associates, which forecasts sales of 11 million that year.
India was one of the fastest growing car markets in 2010 with sales growth of 31 percent. This year though car sales have slowed as the central bank has raised interest rates from 6.25 percent at the start of the year to 8 percent in July.
Despite efforts by carmakers such as Ford, GM and Nissan to aggressively expand their Indian operations to offset slumps in the U.S. and Europe, domestic automakers continue to dominate the market. The best selling car in 2010 was Maruti Suzuki’s Alto. The company sold 300,950 units of the car, nearly double the amount of its closest competitor — the Hyundai i10.
In 2008, Indian carmaker Tata Motors made headlines with its attempt to make an affordable car for India’s middle class. The automaker introduced the world’s cheapest car, the Tata Nano (pictured), which sold for just $2,500 locally. But the model has been a spectacular flop, selling just 1,200 units in August of this year. Still, “mini-cars” and sub-compacts account for a huge portion of the market and made up 80 percent of total car sales in 2010.
2011 sales forecast: 3.4 million
2010 vehicles sold: 3.1 million
Estimated growth: 10%
Germany is Europe’s biggest car market and considered the birthplace of the automobile.
Engines designed by Germans Karl Benz and Nikolaus Otto in the late 1870s led to the creation of the modern day motor car.
Home to some of the world’s most recognizable luxury vehicle brands such as Mercedes, BMW, Porsche and Audi, German-made cars account for the top 13 selling vehicles in the country in 2010. The best seller — Volkswagen’s (VW) Golf (pictured) — posted sales of 195,293 units last year, nearly double its closest competitor. Roughly every third car sold in Germany is made by VW.
In recent years, the Germany’s auto industry has managed to keep its head above water by expanding rapidly in emerging markets. VW’s single largest market is now China. The automaker saw its sales in that country jump 16.4 percent in the first seven months of 2011. Daimler, which owns the Mercedes brand, expects more Mercedes to be sold in China than in its home market by 2015.
2011 sales forecast: 3.5 million
2010 vehicles sold: 3.3 million
Estimated growth: 5%
Brazil overtook Germany in 2010 to become the world’s fourth biggest car market, as sales jumped nearly 10 percent from the previous year.
Foreign investors see big potential in Brazil as the Latin American giant becomes increasingly prosperous. With a population of 192 million people, car companies expect sales to boom as the country’s middle class grows. Currently, Brazil has some 30 million vehicles on its roads.
In December, Italian carmaker Fiat announced it was building a second factory in the country worth $1.8 billion, as part of a $5.9 billion investment in Brazil over the next three years. South Korea’s Hyundai Motor, and China’s Chery Automobile are also set to open factories in Brazil.
Fiat is the number one carmaker is Brazil, accounting for over 23 percent of sales. Germany’s Volkswagen is a close second with 22.7 percent, and makes Brazil’s top selling car since 1987 — the VW Gol. The Brazilian designed car succeeded another highly popular VW model — the Beetle — in the Brazilian market in 1980. Nearly 305,000 units of the Gol were sold in 2010, over 100,000 more than its nearest rival, the Chevrolet Celta.
2011 sales forecast: 3.9 million
2010 vehicles sold: 4.8 million
Estimated growth: -19%
An automobile powerhouse — Japan was the world’s largest vehicle manufacturer until it lost that title to China in 2009.
Despite losing the top spot, Japan is home to some of the world’s biggest carmakers with the likes of Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mazda, and Mitsubishi. Japanese automakers continue to reel from production disruptions from the March earthquake and tsunami and domestic new car sales hit another record low in July. Total sales fell over 23 percent to 373,058 units. Toyota, the country’s largest manufacturer, led the declines with its sales slumping 37 percent in the same period.
Domestic automakers dominate the Japanese car market, accounting for the 62 best-selling vehicles in the country. The most popular car in Japan is the Prius (pictured), with Toyota selling 315,000 units of the car in 2010, while its nearest rival the Suzuki Wagon R posted sales of 197,000 in the same period.
2011 sales forecast: 12.6 million
2010 vehicles sold: 11.5 million
Estimated growth: 8.7%
America’s dominance of the global auto industry came to an end in 2009 when China overtook the country to become the world’s largest auto market. During the 2008-2009 crisis, two of the big three automakers — General Motors and Chrysler had to seek government bailouts. Sales in 2009 slumped to their lowest levels in 27 years.
But since then the market has rebounded with sales rising to 11.5 million in 2010 and they’re forecasted to rise to 12.6 million this year.
Americans have generally stayed true to their gas-guzzling ways in recent years. Subcompact cars accounted for only 3 percent of sales in 2010, while mid-size vehicles made up nearly 28 percent and SUVs and pickup trucks accounted for over 20 percent of sales in the same period. The top selling car in the U.S. is the Camry, with Toyota selling 337,000 units last year, while the Ford F-Series truck came a close second at 313,000 units.
2011 sales forecast: 17.7 million
2010 vehicles sold: 17.2 million
Estimated growth: 3%
China established itself as the world’s biggest car market in 2009 after vehicle sales jumped a whopping 46 percent over the previous year. Auto sales leaped another 32 percent in 2010, helping China extend its lead over the U.S.
Government incentives such as tax breaks and rural subsidies have helped China’s annual vehicle sales rise by double digits over the past few years. But those stimulus measures have come to an end, leading to slower growth.
The country’s largest auto market, Beijing has also introduced limits on car registrations, raising fears the auto market may slow further. In May 2011, China’s auto market posted its first decline in two years, as sales dipped 0.1 percent from a year earlier. Auto sales are up about 6 percent for the first seven months of the year.
The Chinese government has encouraged foreign automakers to establish joint ventures and share technology with local companies. That’s resulted in numerous home-made brands such as Geely, Chery and Dongfang.
The most popular vehicle in the country in 2010 was the Wuling Sunshine, with over 750,000 units of the car sold in that year. The van is made by a joint venture between GM, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) and Wuling Automobile and retails for about $5,000. The next most popular vehicle was the Chana Mini Bus made by Changan Auto, with nearly 240,000 units of the model sold in 2010.