Economic growth and automobile in Europe


I research for the negative consequences of the automobile in societies for a certain time, and it may be evident to many individuals, that high motorisation rates - number of passengers cars per 1000 inhabitants - provoke inevitably more air pollution and noise, mainly in urban areas, more traffic injuries and fatalities, more sedentary life-style related deaths and less quality of urban space, with public space being allocated to parking spaces and roadway instead of leisure infrastructures such as gardens or open car-free squares.

Nevertheless the impact of the automobile in economy, mainly in Europe, has not been studied carefully. Many think, that high motorisation rates are good for Europe, because some European countries, such as Germany or France, produce automobiles. Nevertheless the recent European crises showed that actually, the high motorization rates are mainly positive for countries which have several car manufacturers, being thus able to export such cars to the other European countries. German or France are the biggest exporters of cars to several European countries. Countries such as Portugal, Spain or Greece, deprived from car industry, allocate several financial resources to car imports; for example in Portugal cars represent the second biggest import after fossil fuels, in-which the later serve mainly to run such cars.

In addition, Europe is 80% energy dependent, mainly on transports, which means that when an European buys a car, he or she, will spend huge amounts of financial effort in the future, to buy the fuel that runs such car, such fuel, being totally imported (there are very few exceptions in Europe, like Norway). It's not strange though that in Portugal one fifth of total imports are cars plus fuels.

I went then to Eurostat, the European statistics agency and I started to collect and relate some data.


It's not hard to understand the graphic above, as it comes with no big surprise, because as one on average tends to be richer, they tend more likely to acquire an automobile. Nevertheless I wondered if that applies also to economic growth, but the trend was interestingly the opposite.


If we consider Luxembourg (LU) as a statistic outlier due to its low population and surface, we have a clear trend on the graphic above over the almost one decade 2003-2012, concluding that high motorisation rates in the last years contributed to attenuate the economic growth. The explanation is not hard to understand, considering as said before the European continent has a very high dependency of fossil fuels. As more cars a certain country has, not having endogenous fossil fuels, all that energy which will serve to run the automobiles will be imported, affecting the country's commercial balance, prejudicing therefore the economic performance. In addition, the majority of European countries, like Portugal or Greece, do not have relevant car industries, importing not only the fuels but also the cars. Many of those countries also had enormous public expenditures in motorways, such road infrastructures serving basically the automobile, and many of those infrastructures in the last years were made either increasing taxes or with public debt, affecting therefore economic performance.

Edit: I remade the graphic considering only European countries whose population is greater than one million inhabitants, due to scale factors.

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