Automobile Production Sets New Record in 2012

New Worldwatch Institute study examines conventional and alternative vehicle trends 

Washington, D.C.World auto production set yet another record in 2012 and may rise even higher during 2013. According to London-based IHS Automotive, passenger-car production rose from 62.6 million in 2011 to 66.7 million in 2012, and it may reach 68.3 million in 2013. When cars are combined with light trucks, total light vehicle production rose from 76.9 million in 2011 to 81.5 million in 2012 and is projected to total 83.3 million in 2013, write Michael Renner and Maaz Gardeziin the Worldwatch Institute’s latest Vital Signs Online trend (

Just four countries—China, the United States, Japan, and Germany—produced 53 percent of all light vehicles worldwide, and the top 10 accounted for 76 percent. At 18.2 million vehicles, China produced almost as many as the next two countries—the United States and Japan—combined. Germany’s and South Korea’s production is declining slightly, while that of India, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, and Thailand is rising.

“These trends may be good news for the automobile industry, which now sells a third more vehicles than just three years ago. But the same trends magnify environmental challenges,” said Michael Renner, report co-author and Senior Researcher at Worldwatch. “Automobiles are major contributors to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.” Fuel efficiency standards are compelling manufacturers to produce cleaner cars that emit less carbon per kilometer driven. As of 2012, Japan, the European Union (EU), and India have the lowest limits, at between 128 and 138 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer (g CO2/km), whereas allowable emissions are in the range of 198–205 grams in Australia, Mexico, and the United States (for light-duty vehicles).

The standards now on the drawing boards are intended to bring average per-vehicle emissions down to 95 grams in the EU and 105 grams in Japan (both by 2020), to 93 grams for U.S. cars and 109 grams for U.S. light-duty vehicles (by 2025), and to 153 grams in South Korea (by 2015). India and China are studying limits for 2020 of 113 and 117 grams, respectively, and Mexico is considering 173 grams for 2016.

Alternative vehicle propulsion technologies are slowly becoming more prominent, driven by a desire to reduce dependence on petroleum and the need to reduce air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions. Alternatives include so-called hybrid vehicles that use both a conventional internal combustion engine and an electric motor, as well as a variety of electric vehicles (EVs), such as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), battery electric vehicles (BEVs), and fuel cell electric vehicles.

The cumulative number of hybrid vehicles sold worldwide as of early 2013 was about 6.3 million. Between late 1997 and March 2013, Toyota—the leading hybrid manufacturer—sold nearly 5.13 million hybrids worldwide, or 81 percent of the global total. In 2012, hybrids accounted for 14 percent of the company’s global sales and 40 percent of its sales in Japan. Honda, which introduced its first hybrid model in 1999, surpassed the 1 million cumulative sales mark in September 2012.

Although more than doubling from 45,000 in 2011 to 113,000 in 2012, worldwide electric vehicle production is still a minuscule 0.2 percent when compared with that of conventional automobiles. By the end of 2012, the global EV fleet was estimated at more than 180,000—just 0.02 percent of all passenger cars in the world. The largest EV fleets are currently found in the United States, Japan, France, and China. Relative to population, however, the Netherlands, Japan, France, and Denmark have the largest number of EVs. Norway currently has the fifth-largest EV fleet in the world, at 10,000 vehicles, and by far the greatest density: 200 EVs per 100,000 inhabitants.

Further highlights from the report:

  • At present, individual automobile manufacturers in Europe are producing vehicles that emit from 126 to 161 g CO2/km while light vehicles purchased in the United States averaged emissions of 232 g CO2/km in 2012.
  • Japan is the world’s largest market for hybrids, with Toyota alone selling 678,000 vehicles there in 2012, more than double the 316,000 in 2011.
  • The overall market for lithium-ion batteries in light duty transportation is expected to grow from $1.6 billion in 2012 to $22 billion in 2020.
  • China, Japan, South Korea, and the United States are currently the major lithium-ion battery manufacturers for hybrid and electric vehicle applications.



Notes to Editors:   

For more information and to obtain a complimentary copy of “Automobile Production Sets New Record, But Alternative Vehicles Grow Slowly,” please contact Supriya Kumar at

About the Worldwatch Institute:

Worldwatch is an independent research organization based in Washington, D.C. that works on energy, resource, and environmental issues. The Institute’s State of the World report is published annually in more than a dozen languages. For more information, visit

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