The pandemic, semiconductor shortage and the acceleration of the electrification race produced interesting facts in the global vehicle market last year.

Whilst the global total increased by 5% to approximately 82.1 million units (passenger cars, pickup trucks and light commercial vehicles included), not all the countries posted positive figures. Compared to the pre-pandemic levels, the sales were down by 8% compared to the 89.6 million vehicles sold in 2019.

China was still the biggest market with 26.3 million vehicles, up by 4% vs 2020 and by 6% vs 2019. The crisis has not hit the car sales as much as in the West due to the strong boost from the central government that made the electric cars more affordable than anywhere else. The Chinese motor industry has been the top winner of the crisis that started to hit the global markets two years ago.

It is not the case of the US. Although there was a tiny recovery in 2021 (+4% vs 2020), the 15 million units sold were still far from the 17 million in 2019, or even more before that year. Unlike China and Europe, this market has not benefited yet from the boost of EV sales, as indicated by the figures. In 2021, the pure electric vehicles made up only 3% of the market, while they counted for 11% in China and 10% in Europe.

But the EV boom was not enough to offset the negative effects of the crisis. Europe can tell. The registrations of light vehicles dropped by 25% just between 2019 and 2021, or by 4.04 million units. That’s a massive decrease. Historically, the European vehicle market has had a similar size to the US one. However, this has changed over the last 2 years, with the gap jumping from 1.15 million units in 2019 to 3.2 million last year.

World’s top 10 largest car markets in 2021 by region

Italy: not anymore among the biggest

One of the reasons for the negative results in Europe is related to the difficult times at the main markets. For instance, Italy, which has been historically part of the world’s top 10 largest vehicle markets, was out last year at the position 12th behind Russia and ahead of Mexico. In 2019, Italy was the 9th largest market with almost 2.1 million units, behind Brazil (2.68 million) and ahead of Canada (1.93 million).

The Italian case is similar to the German, French, British and Spanish, all of which posted drops between 22% and 31% between 2019 and 2021. The emerge of the EVs is mostly explained by the boost of the governments through incentives that simply don’t reduce the price enough to become a serious alternative to the most affordable ICE cars. What the strong emissions regulation is doing is leaving out a lot of people that can’t afford an electric car under the current conditions.

Top 10 largest light vehicle markets by sales in 2021

South Korea, Chile and Turkey gain positions

The situation is much better in other markets like South Korea, Chile and Turkey. The first market came from being the 12th largest in 2019 to become the 9th in 2021. It actually did the opposite to what happened to Italy, which fell from the 9th to the 12th position.

Chile was able to better deal with the crisis as it has no local industry and everything is imported. Actually, it was the main reason why it outsold Argentina and became the second largest market in South America. Argentina has 2.4 more inhabitants than Chile.

Turkey jumped from the 25th position in 2019 to the 18th last year, outselling South Africa, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Poland, Belgium and Thailand. The reason: as it happened in 2020, the brand-new cars have become a safe commodity to save money and protect the purchase power from the strong devaluation of its currency.

World largest car markets winners and losers between 2019 and 2021