Abstract Car ownership is growing very rapidly in China; whilst this is a reflection of sustained economic growth, it presents a major challenge to Chinese transport policymakers. The consequences of China's motorization also extend beyond the national borders, however, via mechanisms such as increased demand for new automobiles produced in North America and Europe and the global atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases. Chinese cities are also experimenting with innovative transport policies to manage increasing car ownership, which in a number of cases go beyond the menu of policy options that have traditionally been considered in the West. Despite policy interest for these reasons, China's motorization process is poorly understood, in part due to a scarcity of relevant data. This paper contributes to the body of literature regarding this phenomenon by drawing on a unique data resource: the 2011 wave of the China Household Finance Survey (n = 8438 households). This is a disaggregate national-scale survey dataset developed to monitor economic conditions in China, though to the authors' knowledge the CHFS has not previously been employed to study patterns of car ownership. We report a set of three analyses, to identify factors associated with: 1) whether a household owns at least one car, 2) multiple car ownership, and 3) whether a household owns a new car. Amongst other empirical results, we find that living in a rural area is negatively associated with car ownership, net of confounding effects, and that within towns/cities poor accessibility (i.e. long travel time) to the town/city centre is also negatively associated with car ownership. These findings regarding spatial effects are contrary to typical findings in the West, where car ownership is generally lowest in urban centres. An earlier version of this study was presented at the 2017 Transportation Research Board conference.

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