Germany fact of the day (not about the euro, or is it?)

Germany, passengers cars per thousand: 544

United States, passenger cars per thousand: 409

I was surprised.  The source is here and for the pointer I thank Axayacatl Maqueda.

Addendum: The “fact” seems to be wrong, see the comments, see also Kevin Drum.


maybe something like
"Germany, light trucks per 1000: 1
USA, light trucks per 1000: 200"
would solve this puzzle?

That was my first thought. The average German car probably carries fewer passengers.

Even if so, what about all that public transport and urban planning? Yes people are using smaller cars but wasn't the goal actually replacing cars?

Rahul asks: "Even if so, what about all that public transport and urban planning?"

Basically, the Germans love cars *and* trains. I live in Munich and get around easily without a car, as do my car-owning friends. The system is much more convenient than anything in Australia (or I suspect the US & Canada). But they also love to zip out of town, very, very, fast along the autobahns.

What would the ratio be if you added cars and light trucks.

This already includes light trucks.

The OECD definition of "passenger car" includes light trucks and pickups. Quoting the OECD:

A passenger car is a road motor vehicle, other than a motor cycle, intended for the carriage of passengers and designed to seat no more than nine persons (including the driver).

The term "passenger car" therefore covers microcars (need no permit to be driven), taxis and hired passenger cars, provided that they have fewer than ten seats. This category may also include pick-ups.

So the ratio is exactly the same.

When it says "may" does it mean "does". The Economist article doesn't list the source. Is the OECD using national figures, and then describing it to include, or not include, light trucks, depending on how the state gathered the data. The Economist doesn't list the source. Is the OECD the source of the Economist graph?


Here is a source which lists vehicles per capita with the US as No. 2 and Germany as No. 24.

There is clearly some sourcing problems here, even in the chart listed above.

I suspend my belief until I see the Economist's source and data showing they used the same terms.

"Vehicles" includes cars and light trucks.

Name, The source says "may include"

Name, The source says "may include"

Boom. Thread winner with the first post.

Meant in reply to Mcsimilian. Nice.

Winner of what? The OECD definition of passenger cars specifically mentions that it includes pickups and other light trucks.

The World Bank data may be wrong, but "passenger cars" definitely (is supposed to) include light trucks, just not freight (heavy) trucks and buses and so forth. "Motor vehicles" includes trucks and buses (and motorcycles as well)

Those are definitely the World Bank statistics for passenger cars. The USA has a lot more motor vehicles, which does look a bit odd.

You can't be a "thread winner" when you randomly speculate something that doesn't actually match the definition.

Those statistics may be wrong, but they (as "passenger vehicles") are supposed to include pickups, according to the World Bank and OECD.

Sorry, "motor vehicles" doesn't include motorcycles. It does include microvehicles of the Japanese "kei car" type, though.

Does the World Bank use the "may include" language as well?

Does the 409 number include light trucks? I suspect not.

I would be curious about that too. I am a German living in the US and in general people seem to have more cars here. But maybe there are a lot of poor areas where people don't have that many cars?

The poor rural area where I grew up had a lot of vehicles (anecdotally, it approached one per adult). A lot of them were junkers, but there wasn't any other way to get around. In the city it seems like a very different story.

According to, in 2000 5% of households in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region didn't have access to a car, but it was 12% in St. Paul and 15% in Minneapolis. Now I'm wondering whether the stronger correlation is poverty or density.

Maybe it's the difference between the urban poor and the rural poor.

Per thousand what? Persons? Adults? Households?

Are you jealous of us Germans? :P

I actually gave up on cars completely while living in Germany: and have maintained this since.

Actually, I guess we Germans are even better when it comes to bicycle ownership.

Besides light trucks, the USA has many more extremely poor people, and probably more children per adult.

Well, poor people in the U.S. generally have comparable lifestyles to the median in Europe, I would expect the U.S. poor to have as many cars as the average German. Certainly there are more children per adult. There may be more "extremely poor" people in the U.S. but still only a pretty small percentage (maybe 5% at most).

median in Europe ≠ median in Germany

"poor people in the U.S. generally have comparable lifestyles to the median in Europe": really? That is your experience?

Sounds plausible to me. In my experience, the material standard of living of Europeans is substantially lower than that of Americans.

Just what I have read in the academic literature. I don't know enough about the median European to have any anecdotally-formed opinion.

I'm talking about consumer goods by the way, to be clear. I'm not suggesting poor people in the U.S. have six weeks of paid vacation!

Nonsense. USA has an average income somewhat higher than the average in EU - about 25% higher. But USA also has a GINI-index in the clouds, i.e. huge differences between poor and rich. Being poor in USA puts you further away from the median than being poor in the EU.

EU isn't Europe though, and it's also not homogenous. If you compared USA to Norway, you'd reach a conclusion opposite to yours, for example. (while your conclusion may be true for some of the poorer EU-countries)


Not sure this is correct. Does Gini account for wealth transfers? I am talking about consumption. In consumption terms, poor Americans are much closer to the median than in income terms.

I will have to look for the study- it compared ownership of various consumer goods in poor U.S. households and in Europe (including cars). The rates were pretty comparable overall, but some things the U.S. poor had a much larger % and some the Europeans had a substantially larger percentage, perhaps due to cultural differences or tariffs or something.

Income isn't a very meaningful indicator of material standard of living. Better to look at consumption. Here is some data on the consumption patterns of America's "poor." I suspect the median European doesn't live as well.

Couldn't the difference somply reflect a disparity in average family size? Assuming that most families' automobile number caps at two without regard to the number of people in the household, a nation with larger families should have smaller numbers of cars per capita. Or so it seems to me.

This is what I was thinking too. What is family size in Germany vs the US? gives similar numbers for Germany, the UK, and Russia (citation is to Eurostat), but totally different numbers for the USA (citation is to USA Dept of Energy). I suspect the majority of the disparity is either definitions of passenger cars, or possibly that the Economist used incomparable numbers from different sources.

I looked for state-by-state vehicle rates to select between the 'poor areas have fewer cars' and the 'poor areas are more rural and have more cars' theories and found -- but I have to squint really hard to see any kind of pattern; the lowest states are New York but also Nevada and Colorado, and Alabama and Mississippi are at opposite ends of the spectrum...

Yep--it's probably failing to include light trucks. The Europeans own a lot more cars and drive a lot more than most people in the U.S. realize (especially public transport fans), but as the wikipedia page has it, there's simply NO WAY that passenger vehicles per capita are higher in Germany than the U.S.

The world bank has a nice map visualization of the data:

According to these numbers US is 451 and German is 502 (both numbers from 2008). Interestingly most of the developed world seems to have more per capita cars than America: France has 495; Britain has 462; Switzerland has 522; Australia has 551. Surprisingly, the "bankrupt" Italian have 596; more than even the "rich" Germans.

Most of this seems correlated with per capita GDP. Here's a graph:

Interestingly the only nation that has a higher (or equal) per capita GDP than the US; yet has lesser cars seems Denmark.

I admit I am surprised too. So all that talk about Americans being car crazy is crap?

Junk chart from the Economist.

If you look at you see 451 for the USA.
But if you look at you see 809.
The corresponding German numbers are: 502 and 554.

The different definitions are:
"Motor vehicles include cars, buses, and freight vehicles but do not include two-wheelers."
"Passenger cars refer to road motor vehicles, other than two-wheelers, intended for the carriage of passengers"

There is no way that the USA has 350 other vehicles per 1000 people. Well, there is a way and that is that SUVs are in the 350. Because you don't believe there are 350 real trucks and buses per 1000 people.

Therefore, the pretty chart is junk.

Yes, but "passenger cars" definitely does include light trucks (as stressed here), it just doesn't include heavy (real) trucks and buses and so forth.

I am confused a bit too, that does seem like a large number of freight trucks and buses and so forth, so perhaps the World Bank data is junk?

“passenger cars” definitely does include light trucks

The U.S. BTS distinguishes passenger cars from light trucks. The latter category includes SUVs, pickups and minivans, which constitute a huge share of the U.S. private passenger automobile fleet. I'm pretty sure the Economist's comparison does not include these vehicles. According to Eurostat, the EU statistics agency, as of 2009 the U.S. motorisation rate was 782 per 1,000 inhabitants. This includes both passenger cars and light trucks.

Yes, but “passenger cars” definitely does include light trucks (as stressed here)

You keep saying that, and you keep being wrong. Why are you doing this, John? You've already been called on this several times in this thread.

Demographics probably has a component in this; more of the population in Germany is above driving age relative to the US.

1) Yes . . . the US produces far more light trucks than passenger cars. If you include both in your calculations, you will find that the US in 2010 produced 2.7 million cars and 4.9 million light trucks --- for a total of7.6 million light vehicles. And in Germany? To its 5.5 million cars produced in 2010, add 0.35 million light trucks --- or a total of 5.9 million light vehicles in all.


2) Enter population

Whereas the US has about 310 million people, Germany has about 80 million --- roughly a quarter of the number of Americans. So, if anything, the German auto-companies clearly out-produce per 1000 people US light-vehicle production even when you add in light-trucks to total cars.

Michael Gordon

Well, you managed a worse use of statistics than the original link, so... I'm impressed.

Yes, stupid of me to forget German exports. In 2010, of the 5.5 million light vehicles produced in Germany, slightly more than 4.0 million were exported. In the US, for 2007 --- the latest figure I could find using a quick google search --- 16% of all light vehicle production in this country was exported (with used vehicle exports adding about another third to that percentage --- or roughly for a total of 2.3 million vehicles exported). That figure includes German- and Asian-owned factory output in the USA. Source:

And so? Well, it's hard now to tell whether the figures cited in Tyler's post about the percentage of car ownership per thousand in the US and Germany are accurate or not.

Sorry again for the careless use of figures.

Michael Gordon

So, I checked Destatis ( and the bureau of transportation statistics (yes, apparently there really is such a thing: and using these primary data sources I get figures of about ~509 for Germany and ~781 for the US. Give or take 10 percent or so for shortcuts, but there seems to be plenty of evidence that the numbers cited by the economist are just bollocks.

Good work. Primary data sources. Hooray.

Totally false. Wikipedia claims that there are 828 cars per 1000 in the USA and 534 cars per 1000 in Germany. Not surprising given that it is MUCH easier to get around without a car in Germany than in USA. Public transport in most US cities other than NYC is a joke.

The strange thing is that Canada has 620 cars per 1000 while Germany has 534 cars per 1000, Japan has 593 per 1000 and Spain has 608 per 1000. I live in Canada and I can assure that our public transport is MUCH worse than any of these countries. The cities of Toronto proper, Montreal proper and Vancouver proper have so-so public transport and small subway systems and it is semi-feasible to live without a car in the downtowns of those cities, but in most of the suburbs of those cities, public transport is a joke. In most of our smaller cities bus service is rubbish or non-existent. We do not have the extensive commuter rail systems found in any of these countries ("GO Transit" in Toronto is a joke) nor do we have a high speed rail system. It does not make sense that car ownership in Canada is so much lower than the USA.

Probably way more snowmobiles, though.

There is also the issue of average miles traveled by said passenger vehicles. I'd be shocked if the US and Canada do not trounce southern Europe in that category. 12k miles a year is considered heavy use over there, and pretty normal around here. If a Spaniard spends 20 minutes in a car commute, it better be because he is in a traffic jam.

Not surprising given that it is MUCH easier to get around without a car in Germany than in USA. Public transport in most US cities other than NYC is a joke.

Private automobiles are the overwhelmingly dominant mode of transportation in both the U.S. and Germany. They're just somewhat more dominant in the U.S. than they are in Germany. Not surprising given that we have more land than the Germans do, our cities are generally newer than theirs, and we're richer than they are.

Germany is slightly smaller than Montana, but has 81 times its population. What does that say about the relative effectiveness and utility of public transportation?

US cities are less densely populated than German cities. Berlin, Munich and Stuttgart all have more than 3000 people per square kilometer.Essen/Dusseldorf has 2800, and Los Angeles clocks in at 2750 for the top US spot (90th place on the list of world cities). Cologne/Bonn has 2400. San Francisco/Oakland is next at 2350, followed by Frankfurt, Hamburg, and San Jose at 2300. New York City has only 2050 (obviously not just Manhattan). New Orleans, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Miami, Denver, Chicago, and Salt Lake City have between 1500 and 2000 as does Aachen. All other US metro areas have less than 1500 people per square kilometer.

Sparse population makes public transit extremely inefficient.

Public transportation is a joke. It's meant for livestock, not humans. Slave ships had more space per person than the NYC, DC, or San Francisco transit systems at rush hour. And they smell about the same.

"Why should I pay exact fare if you're not dropping me off exactly where I want to go?"

In US cities, the main factor precluding automobile travel is the cost of parking and tolls. Outside of cities or in small cities, the car is the preferred mode of travel for many obvious reasons.

Given the expense involved in buying a car, maintaining it, fueling it, insuring it, passing the TUV, and getting a drivers license in Germany, the statistics at the top are very hard to believe.

The US has a much more vibrant used car market because in Germany they fail inspection too easily. Multiple cars per household in Germany are far less common than the US.

"In US cities, the main factor precluding automobile travel is the cost of parking and tolls"

Not income?

Where in the US can a single minimum wage worker afford a reliable car. Just saw an ad for newspaper delivery job that specifically required a back car for the car required to qualify for the job reflecting the poor reliability of "affordable" used cars.

Just saw an ad for newspaper delivery job that specifically required a back car for the car required to qualify for the job reflecting the poor reliability of “affordable” used cars.


74% of households with incomes below the federal poverty line have at least one car. Almost a third of poor households have two or more cars.

More than once I've heard people compare cars in Germany to guns in the US. Germany is the land of the autobahnen.

Yeah, but cars in Germany to guns in US is mainly about speed limit (rather: the missing limit on most autobahns). We just prefer another way to kill each other, compared to Americans.

1) The cars static do not include light-trucks.
2) Smaller families

I like that this misconstrued fact was posted the same day as the Andrew Lo paper. There is no hope. :)

Look on page 5 of Donald Shoup's book here: Note that Shoup is a car-hater, so he may exaggerate, but he's comparing cars to cars so it's probably roughly reliable.

1) As my previous reply to a couple of posters mentioned, German companies exported almost 75% of the 5.5 million cars --- light vehicles (including light trucks) --- that they produced, at any rate in 2010. Auto companies in the US, by contrast, exported in 2007 16% of new car-production, with used cars adding about 5& to 6% to those figures. I added that these export-figures made uncertain whether Tyler's references to car-ownership were accurate or not.

2) Now we can be certain. According to a study put out in 2006, the US had far higher ownership of cars (including light-trucks) than Germany among the population older than 18 years. Specifically:

World-Wide Ownership (2006)
1, US : ...........89% (roughly 9 out of 10 of the adult population)
2, Saudi Arabia: 86%
3. Britain: 80%
4. Germany:76%


I hope that these figures compensate for the careless nature of my original post, which forgot to take into account exports of light vehicles from the US and Germany. Hard to believe that German car ownership could have closed that gap in the last 4 years, no?

Michael Gordon, aka the buggy professor

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