There Are Now 8 Billion People In The World. Can We Fit Them All In Cars?

Canwefit Top

I’m not sure if you happened to notice while you were doing whatever it is you do this morning, but today is the day that the Earth’s population finally reached eight billion people. That’s a lot of people – in fact, more than we’ve ever had, at least at one time. It’s also just about double the number of people compared to the time I can first recall having any idea of what the Earth’s human population was, somewhere around the mid 1970s. This is quite a milestone, and it got me wondering something: If we had to take the entire population of earth and, you know, drive us all somewhere, do we have enough cars to fit everyone? This is important, so let’s figure it out.

The first thing we need to find out is just how many cars there are on Earth. The number that I’ve found most commonly referenced between a large number of sources and outlets seems to be 1,446,000,000 cars, or, if you hate reading all those zeroes, about 1.45 billion cars. That’s a lot of cars, but it’s significantly less than the number of people.

Here’s how that number breaks down by region:

Asia: 531 million
Europe: 405.3 million (282 million in EU plus 123 million in non-EU countries)
North America: 351 million
South America: 83 million
Middle East: 49 million
Africa: 26 million
Antarctica: about 50

Even though the number of cars is a lot less than the number of people, this is fine! Most cars are not single-occupancy Daihatsu Midgets, and lots of people on Earth can’t even drive, by virtue of being too young or too old or too drunk or too much living in a big city like New York or San Francisco and being too smug about all the public transportation they take.

Peoplepercarmath

So, let’s figure out how many people per car we’d need to get the whole population of Earth into cars. We’ll divide 8,000,000,000 by 1,446,000,000 which gives us right about 5.533 people per car. This is good news! Sure, there’s lots of MGs and Bugeye Sprites and Corvettes in the world, but most cars can seat more than two people, and there’s plenty of buses out there that can take lots more people.

If I had to guess, and I do, because I’m having fun here, I’d say that the most common number of people a car can hold is four, but I bet if we average the number an automobile can hold, factoring in buses and minivans and three-row SUVs and all that, I bet the sheer number of available seats across all automobiles will be over what we actually need.

Maxximo

I know it sounds crazy, but think about this: in densely-populated countries like India, small, common cars like the Mahindra Maxximo van can hold eight people, no problem, and are often loaded with even more. Many countries have fleets of cars that are tasked to move lots of people at once, day in and day out, and even in lesser-densely populated countries like the United States, where the average occupancy of a car is only one and a half people, most of those largely-empty cars and SUVs are capable of holding significantly more people.

So, yeah, we can do this! And I think we’ll have seats left over, which will probably be good, because if we think about luggage, we may need the room. The average subcompact has about 10 cubic feet of cargo room, bigger sedans have about 15 cubic feet, an average wagon or SUV has around 30 cubic feet, and then actual vans have plenty.

So, if we say that on average, a passenger vehicle has about 18 cubic feet of cargo room, and divide that by 5.5, that gives us about 3.2 cubic feet of cargo room per passenger, which is just a bit under three airline-sized carry-on bags in size. Actually, that’s pretty good. In fact, that sounds too good. My math must be off, because that would mean 12 carry on sized bags for a car with four people, and that seems way too much. To be safe here, I’m going to say everyone just gets one carry-on-sized bag to take with them. Maybe we can make arrangements to carry more stuff in moving and delivery vans, but I’m gonna let someone else organize that.

Here’s the takeaway: the Earth now has a population of 8 billion people. If we needed to load everyone up into cars and drive somewhere, I think we have enough seats – likely more than enough – to pull it off.

So now you can relax. Just be sure to gas up and pee before we all get on the road.

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47 Responses

  1. You just have to get the smaller people in to the cars with less space. My nephew can fit in the frunk of a 911, making that at least a 5 seater.

    I once saw 12 kids get in to a Lotus Evora, just in the 2+2 passenger compartment so room for another one in the trunk. Not sure if they had room inside to actually drive it though.

  2. The human population has certainly overshot the Earth’s natural carrying capacity, and automobiles are a major driver in both resource consumption and global warming.

    Just imagine all of the resource shortages, environmental destruction, and congested roads we’d be experiencing if ALL of Earth’s 8 billion people had at least one car. The Earth’s fossil fuel reserves would be exhausted in very short order, so electric vehicles are one of the few technologies that might make such a scenario viable. Even though lithium is one of the most abundant elements found within the Earth’s crust, it would be a massive stretch to extract enough of it for each car to have a 50 kWh battery pack. These massive land hippos with 100+ kWh battery packs are every bit as unsustainable as the polluting land barges that were on U.S. roads 50 years ago. We’ve simply traded one set of problems for another.

    But for transporting one person from A to B, most people who are fortunate enough to be able to afford to own a car have way more car than they need. If cars were built more like velomobiles, you could get 300+ miles range with a 3 kWh battery pack. Such a vehicle would take up less than half the width and two-thirds the length of a small hatchback, leading to greatly reduced congestion. Road wear would be comparable to that imposed by a walking pedestrian or a cyclist, meaning virtually none. And as far as resource usage per vehicle goes, energy consumption per mile of use per person would be shrunk by almost two orders of magnitude.

    If automobiles are to have any sort of future on an increasingly populated and resource-strained world, they need to be downsized. Unfortunately, the worlds governments are largely captured by an auto industry that can’t see passed its own short term profit from the sales of high-margin CUVs/SUVs/trucks, and the vehicles we need in order to address the multiple systemic crisis our planet is facing are being rendered increasingly impossible through regulations and legislation.

    Meanwhile, I have built such a vehicle, and have saved myself many thousands of dollars over its use vs a normal car. Per mile, it’s cheaper than, has less ecological footprint than, and is faster than, taking a light rail train or the bus. And I don’t have to wait for it to arrive, can load the trunk space with whatever I need to carry, AND can take it wherever I want to go. Legally, at least where I reside, it’s a “bicycle”, and functional as one if I disabled the motor.

    1. I’m completely with you on the velomobile thing! I even see a future where we have dedicated traffic lanes with guard rails to protect us from larger vehicles.
      Velos can cope with a little more weight and still be insanely economical,so a bit of comfort and safety won’t be a stretch. Bring em on!
      And yes i should get off my arse and build one.After the house is built,i promise

    2. That’s awesome. I really do wish we could get some superlight “cars” that can go very far on a 3 ish kWh battery pack. Especially for travel within cities and suburbs, you really don’t need a huge vehicle, and safety standards can be modified to accomodate vehicles that only travel up to like 25 mph / 40km/hr

      In the meantime, we have ebikes, which are a fantastic way to get around using electricity and a very small battery (compared to a Tesla).

      1. At 25 mph, I don’t even need the motor, unless I’m going up a hill. I can sprint to 35 mph on flat ground with the motor disabled in my custom build, although I can’t hold that for long. Turn the motor on, and I fly down state highways at 45 mph, with my light to moderate pedaling effort accounting for a significant percentage of its propulsion.

        My unmotorized Milan SL that I purchased last year is a different beast altogether. I can pedal that to 50 mph on flat ground, but it takes two miles to reach it, and once I do, I’m worn out for the day. Although I could take a 100 mile ride at 25 mph with no problem. I never converted it to electric, but have been reverse engineering it to assist in the next iteration of my custom build.

        What I want to do is build a single-person car, without bicycle parts, in the shape/form factor of the Milan. Like imagine it weighed around 120-150 lbs, but had like 150-200 horsepower and AWD in it, in a vehicle that might only need 6 horsepower to maintain 120 mph on flat ground. THAT would be completely and totally crazy, and if mass produced, would cost about as much as a moped, while having faster acceleration than almost any car in existence, while costing next to nothing to operate. It would be so light that ebike parts could deliver that sort of performance, without destroying the motors/controllers. Gear it for say, 120 mph top speed, and it might reach it from a stop in under 5 seconds, preventing the destruction of the motor/controller/battery. And you’d be able to go tens of miles for literal pennies.

      1. Close to it. Definitely a step up from washing dishes at the local COVID den for minimum wage, which I was doing for a year and a half before I landed my current job at an engineering firm. But I also have an electrical engineering degree and a decade of experience in that field. Don’t know how much longer I’ll have this gig, but I’m getting money while the getting is good. I still live in the ghetto and keep my living expenses nice and low.

        I’m certain I was the only dishwasher in existence that commuted to work in a vehicle that got the equivalent of 4,000 miles per gallon, which I designed and built. For whatever reason, the authoritarian capitalist hellscape we live in does not have a use for my skills, unless it involves squandering those skills doing boring work that makes rich people even richer. Go figure.

        All the more motivation to get off grid. This Spaceship Earth is going to go down, crashing and burning. I do not want to be in or near an urban area when that happens, nor will I support the whims of the tyrants currently in power. Best course of action is to create as much distance as possible between me and them and make sure they get as little of my money as possible.

        Speaking of which, the Petrodollar’s days are numbered.

    3. Motorcycles. Not ALWAYS going to be the answer but many times they are. I live in Wisconsin and even with our winters (which are not always bad enough to stop me from riding) I put twice the amount of miles on my Yamaha than I do my Chevy

      1. The biggest thing motorcycles are missing from an efficiency perspective is aerodynamics. They often have fuel efficiency comparable to a small car, even though the laden mass might only be 1/5th that of said car. The main reason for this is that their CdA value is comparable to that of said small car(although motorcycle engines also tend to be tuned for performance at the expense of efficiency as well). The frontal area of a motorcycle is often less than 1/3 that of a small car, but the drag coefficient value tends to be higher than even the worst SUVs. It’s not uncommon for motorcycles to get 50-100 mpg. A full size car can be made to get that sort of mileage if it is sufficiently streamlined and the powerplant/gearing carefully selected. An electric motorcycle will often consume 100-150 Wh/mile at freeway speeds, and there exist electric car conversions that consume the same thanks to an emphasis on aerodynamic streamlining, in spite of weighing almost an order of magnitude more.

        When you put the motorcycle rider in a reclined position and wrap a streamlined body around it with a very low drag coefficient, retaining the low mass and frontal area of the motorcycle, you open up the possibility of a single-seat “car” that not only offers weather protection and some modicum of safety plus space for everything you need to carry, but this also opens the door to getting literally thousands of miles per gallon of fuel(if ICE) or single-digit Wh/mile consumption(if EV) in normal driving conditions without any special operator concern for efficiency. This is an option that should be available to the masses, but isn’t.

        Mine is in my profile. I designed it with three wheels, in order to get around the legal issues that come with having four. I’d have preferred four wheels for reasons pertaining to vehicle dynamics. As it is, it can pass as a “bicycle” since there is no throttle. No license, title, tags, insurance, registration, or taxes required, because it doesn’t meet any of my state’s “motor vehicle” definitions and is perfectly functional as a bicycle if I disable the motor. And IMO, those things shouldn’t be required for vehicles anyway. So this vehicle is not only environmentally benign, it is also an FU to the control freaks and parasites in government that are ruthlessly extracting our money and liberty(US drivers license holders are being put into law enforcement/intelligence agency facial recognition databases, even in states that have explicitly outlawed the practice) under the guise of serving the public good(but most of it is actually enriching/subsidizing corporate interests and the wealthy. Consider that a study from the Minnesota DOT found that 18-wheeler trucks accounted for more than 7,000 times the per mile road wear of a passenger car, but proportionally, they do NOT pay anything near that much for use of the roads). And my usage of this vehicle isn’t costing anyone anything anyhow, except money that certain control freaks and parasites feel entitled to that they didn’t work for and aren’t currently getting from me. Try as they may, the police haven’t been able to legally do much about it.

          1. Just imagine what kind of economy it would get in a vehicle of the same weight and 1/10th the aerodynamic drag. Dare I say that well over 1,000 mpg in real-world use is possible.

            The 50cc engine makes 4.8 horsepower. In a vehicle with the CdA value of my Milan SL velomobile, it would reach well over 100 mph on flat ground with the appropriate selection of gear ratios.

          2. I remember filling up a Honda 250 with a $5 bill and getting change. That bike had no fuel gauge so I had to go off the odometer. Unfortunately, I took a date on it once and ran out of gas 200 yards from a station because I didn’t take the extra mass into account.

    4. And if we all ate nothing but unflavored soy paste, then there would be a lot more food to go around too. But guess what, most people want more than the minimum. And people always will. Thats exactly why communism has never worked (and will never work). The reason automakers make fancy, fast cars is because people want them. And these people are perfectly willing to exchange their labor for what they want. The world is a very unequal place. Trying to enforce equality, in anything other than strictest legal definition, is evil. There will always be haves and have-nots.

      1. Malthus was wrong.

        “There will always be haves and have-nots” is not an immutable law of nature. It’s an idea that entices the mind to give up and cease trying to improve the lot of the less fortunate. Like Toecutter says below, the problem isn’t that we can’t produce enough food.

        The problem is one of logistics (getting basic necessities to those who need them) and of economics (it’s economically incentivized to not care about those in need). Compound that with a system that demands continuous, unrelenting growth and consumption and you have the foundation of much human suffering in the modern world.

      2. There already is more than enough food to go around. Much of it goes to waste because people are priced out of affording it, and corporations would rather it be left to rot than someone get it for free. The irony is that the ecological damage caused by abusing the soil, water, and timber resources may result in there being nothing to eat BUT flavorless soy paste, if anything at all.

        I don’t advocate for authoritarian systems of government. The opposite is the case in fact. I get that most people want more than the minimum. But I also get that most people have nothing at all, and would be very happy with the minimum, as opposed to nothing.

        The automakers generally build what the automakers want people to buy, and not inherently what people want to buy. They spend billions of dollars in advertising convincing people they want these bloated overpriced products for a reason. The automakers are stopping the production of low-margin, low-cost cars that are selling decently, because they’d rather you buy a higher-margin, more expensive product, and one’s choice to buy the cheaper item cannibalizes the sale of the higher-margin item. The automakers bribe the government to give them favorable treatment via legislation, again for a reason. It’s gotten to the point that people aren’t exchanging labor for a car, most of them are exchanging debt for a car, because cars are becoming increasingly less affordable to buy at the current prevailing wages. People use debt to pretend that they can “afford” them, and there are examples within the auto industry that make more money on financing than on selling cars.

        I get that the world is a very unequal place. Perhaps the largest driver of that inequality is government itself. No authoritarian system of communism will solve that. Getting the auto industry out of government, and vice versa, would certainly be a step in the right direction.

        However, if humankind continues on its current trajectory, it may make itself extinct. We don’t have another habitable planet to live on, and the resources provided by the planet we do live on are being squandered, and we won’t be able to wish them back into existence when they are gone.

  3. “Where are we going?” “Are we there yet?” “She keeps kicking my seat” “Anyone else gotta pee?” “When do we eat, I’m hungry?”…

    Ahhhh…”Do you want to pull over RIGHT NOW?” “I am going to…unless you cut it out.”

  4. If we ever all do decide to get into cars at once, stay out of the self-drivers. Governments and the super rich (looking at you Elon Musk) will take control and turn all of these vehicles into lemming mobiles headed for the nearest steep cliff.

  5. But where are we going? This is like when the family goes out to eat – we all get in the car, buckle up, pull out of the garage and then sit there in the driveway until my wife finally decides what restaurant we’re heading for.

    The neighbors think we’re weird.

  6. Does Elon’s Mars Roadster still count? It’s only a 2 seater and the driver seat is occupied by a dummy and it’s not on the planet anymore but I don’t see why that should keep it from being an option.

    1. And this brings up the flip side: do we have enough cars >not< on Earth for the few people who also aren’t on the planet at the moment? A very cursory search got me bogged on the driveable rovers vs robotic ones, so I don’t know if there are enough to accommodate however many are currently on the ISS(that’s the only one inhabited at the moment, right?)
      Back to work

      1. Three 2-seater Lunar Rover Vehicles (LRVs) were left on the moon following their missions on Apollo 15, 16, and 17. I think these are the only ones that “count” as passenger vehicles since they are the only ones designed to carry people.

        The listed full crew size for the ISS is 7. I know they’ve previously had fewer than that amount on board, but I’m not sure if they can exceed it. There are currently 7 astronauts on board. So I guess it’s a good thing that Elon’s roadster has an empty passenger seat.

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