Vehicle trade around the world has many faces and interesting stories as car makers try to gain traction through the opening of new factories in developing countries, or by the promotion of new trade deals between the economic blocs. At the same time, many governments try to protect their local industry by imposing high tariffs to imports.

In the case of USA, the world’s second largest car market, and the second vehicle producer is quite interesting. According to my own research, it is by far the most open to imports compared to the other two big markets, Europe, and China. Last year, from the 15.05 million light vehicles sold, 8.84 million were produced locally. That’s 59%, leaving an important piece of the market to foreign cars.

This relative low traction of the locally made cars in USA contrasts to the strong presence of the local cars in Europe and China.

Last year, there were 14.2 million cars sold globally that were made in Europe. From them, 10.79 million were sold in Europe, which represented 78% of all the new car sales in the region. Therefore, the consumers in Europe tend to buy more local products than the ones in the States.

2021 global vehicle sales in million units graphic

In China, the figures show an even more restricted market when it is about imports. It is the world’s largest market by sales, and the biggest auto producer. In 2021, a total of 24.47 million cars sold globally were made in China. Almost all of them, 23.37 million, were sold locally, whilst the imported cars sales totalled 1.16 million. In other words, 95% of the vehicle sales in China corresponded to units produced in the country.

To better understand how closed the Chinese market is, let’s take the case of Mexico. Last year, there were more imported cars in Mexico than in China. The Chinese market was 24 times bigger than the Mexican car market.

2021 global vehicle sales in million units graphic

Interesting trends in Europe

The European total has as many faces as countries. For example, although Germany is the main producer and the largest market, it was Spain selling the most of its locally made cars within the continent. According to my figures, the Spanish cars found 1.76 million new clients in Europe, excluding Spain, while their German counterparts were bought by 1.64 million clients in the same continent, excluding Germany.

Another interesting fact from last year’s figures is the situation of the cars made in Great Britain. We all know that the industry is not living its best days in this country. Still, there were 1.07 million vehicles sold globally that were produced in the UK. That’s more than in Italy and not far from the 1.12 million units from Canada.

The fascinating part is that its exports to Europe and to the rest of the world followed the same pattern of Germany, usually considered a successful case. In 2021, Britain sold 393,000 made-in-Britain cars outside Europe, or 37% of the total. Another 44% of the 1.07 million vehicles mentioned above were sold in Europe, excluding the UK.

Where cars sold in 2021 were made graphic

The German made cars sold outside Europe represented 34% of all the cars sold globally and produced in Germany; and those sold in Europe, excluding Germany made up 43% of the total.

Finally, there is Italy and France. Interestingly, the former sold more of its cars outside Europe than the latter. The data shows that even if France sold almost twice the cars made locally than Italy, they put a bit more than 150,000 units outside Europe, against 156,000 units made in Italy. In any case, their presence in the global markets is very small, especially compared to other small countries like Slovakia.

The author of the article, Felipe Munoz, is an Automotive Industry Specialist at JATO Dynamics.