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Mercator Misconceptions: Clever Map Shows the True Size of Countries

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mercator projection true size of countries

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This Clever Map Shows the True Size of Countries

Maps are hugely important tools in our everyday life, whether it’s guiding our journeys from point A to B, or shaping our big picture perceptions about geopolitics and the environment.

For many people, the Earth as they know it is heavily informed by the Mercator projection—a tool used for nautical navigation that eventually became the world’s most widely recognized map.

Mercator’s Rise to the Top

With any map projection style, the big challenge lies in depicting a spherical object as a 2D graphic. There are various trade-offs with any map style, and those trade-offs can vary depending on how the map is meant to be used.

In 1569, the great cartographer, Gerardus Mercator, created a revolutionary new map based on a cylindrical projection. The new map was well-suited to nautical navigation since every line on the sphere is a constant course, or loxodrome.

Geographic Inflation

The vast majority of us aren’t using paper maps to chart our course across the ocean anymore, so critics of the Mercator projection argue that the continued use of this style of map gives users a warped sense of the true size of countries—particularly in the case of the African continent.

Mercator’s map inadvertently also pumps up the sizes of Europe and North America. Visually speaking, Canada and Russia appear to take up approximately 25% of the Earth’s surface, when in reality they occupy a mere 5%.

As the animated GIF below—created by Reddit user, neilrkaye – demonstrates, northern nations such as Canada and Russia have been artificially “pumped up” in the minds of many people around the world.

True size of countries animation Mercator

Greenland, which appears as a massive icy landmass in Mercator projection, shrinks way down. The continent of Africa takes a much more prominent position in this new, correctly-scaled map.

This visualization also highlights how distorted neighboring countries can look in Mercator projection. In the GIF above, Scandinavian countries no longer loom imposingly over their European neighbors, and Canada deflates to a size similar to the United States.

Despite inaccurate visual features—or perhaps because of them—the Mercator projection has achieved widespread adoption around the world. This includes in the classroom, where young minds are first learning about geography and forming opinions on the relationships between countries.

Getting Reacquainted with Globes

Google, whose map app is used by approximately 150 million people per month, took the bold step of using different projections for different purposes in 2018.

The Earth is depicted as a globe at further zoom levels, sidestepping map projection issues completely and displaying the world as it actually is: round. The result is a more accurate depiction of countries and landmasses.

At closer zoom levels, users are typically using maps for things like navigation, which the Mercator projection was designed for. The exact angles of roads and borders are preserved in this projection.

In the Right Direction

In a more globally connected world, geographic literacy is more important than ever. As people become more accustomed to equal area maps and seeing the Earth in its spherical form, misconceptions about the size of continents may become a thing of the past.

This post was first published in 2018. We have since updated it, adding in new content for 2021.

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Markets

Who Owns the Most Vehicles per Capita, by Country?

Here are the highest vehicles per capita by country as a growing global middle class is fueling car ownership rates around the world.

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This bar graph shows the number of vehicles per 1,000 people around the world.

Who Owns the Most Vehicles per Capita, by Country?

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

In 2020, there were 289 million vehicles in use in America, or about 18% of the global total.

With one of the largest car ownership rates worldwide, the number of U.S. cars on the road have more than doubled since the 1960s. But how does ownership compare to other countries, and who is seeing the fastest growth rates amid a rising global middle class?

This graphic shows vehicles per capita by country, based on data from the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers (OICA).

Highest Car Ownership Rates Worldwide

Below, we rank countries based on the number of registered vehicles in use per 1,000 people, including both passenger cars and commercial vehicles as of 2020:

CountryNumber of Vehicles in Use
per 1000 Inhabitants
Average Annual Growth Rate
2015-2020
🇳🇿 New Zealand8693%
🇺🇸 U.S.8602%
🇵🇱 Poland7614%
🇮🇹 Italy7561%
🇦🇺 Australia7372%
🇨🇦 Canada7073%
🇫🇷 France7041%
🇨🇿 Czechia6583%
🇵🇹 Portugal6402%
🇳🇴 Norway6351%
🇦🇹 Austria6322%
🇬🇧 UK6322%
🇩🇪 Germany6272%
🇪🇸 Spain6272%
🇬🇷 Greece6171%
🇯🇵 Japan6120%
🇨🇭 Switzerland6041%
🇧🇪 Belgium5901%
🇳🇱 Netherlands5882%
🇫🇮 Finland5771%
🇸🇪 Sweden5441%
🇩🇰 Denmark5402%
🇮🇪 Ireland5403%
🇲🇾 Malaysia5356%
🇸🇰 Slovakia5133%
🇱🇾 Libya4904%
🇧🇬 Bulgaria485-1%
🇭🇷 Croatia4743%
🇸🇾 Syria4727%
🇭🇺 Hungary4634%
🇰🇷 South Korea4582%
🇷🇴 Romania4387%
🇮🇱 Israel4044%
🇷🇺 Russia3892%
🇧🇾 Belarus3871%
🇲🇽 Mexico3584%
🇹🇼 Taiwan3441%
🇦🇪 UAE3438%
🇷🇸 Serbia3304%
🇦🇷 Argentina3110%
🇹🇭 Thailand2775%
🇨🇱 Chile2461%
🇰🇿 Kazakhstan226-1%
🇨🇳 China22314%
🇹🇷 Türkiye2204%
🇧🇷 Brazil2141%
🇺🇦 Ukraine192-1%
🇮🇷 Iran1832%
🇿🇦 South Africa1761%
🇪🇨 Ecuador1523%
🇻🇪 Venezuela149-1%
🇩🇿 Algeria1443%
🇲🇦 Morocco1124%
🇨🇴 Colombia1111%
🇮🇶 Iraq1114%
🇵🇪 Peru884%
🇮🇩 Indonesia785%
🇪🇬 Egypt644%
🇳🇬 Nigeria565%
🇻🇳 Vietnam5017%
🇵🇭 Philippines383%
🇮🇳 India3310%
🇵🇰 Pakistan207%

Clinching top spot is New Zealand, a country known for its love of cars.

With nearly nine cars on the road to every 10 people, this figure is notably high considering that children make up about 20% of the population. The majority of cars are imported second hand from Japan thanks to a wave of deregulation in the 1980s along with the country being a major producer of right-hand drive cars.

The U.S. falls close behind, with a clear preference for trucks and SUVs. In fact, the Ford F-1 Series has been the best-selling vehicle in America for 42 consecutive years.

In Europe, Poland has the highest number of vehicles per person, but one of the lowest share of electric vehicles (EVs). While EVs make up nearly 16% of all cars in top-ranking country Norway, they comprise 0.1% in Poland. On average, EVs account for 0.8% of passenger cars in the European Union.

Driven by an expanding middle class, Vietnam has seen the fastest growth in ownership. Between 2015 and 2020, the motorization rate grew by an astonishing 17% each year. Additionally, China witnessed 14% growth while India’s vehicles per 1,000 people increased 10% annually over the period.

The Top EV Markets, by Country

As EV sales gain momentum, here are the biggest markets worldwide, based on the number of all-EV cars in use as of 2022:

CountryEstimated Number of EVs in Use
2022
🇨🇳 China11,000,000
🇺🇸 U.S.2,100,000
🇩🇪 Germany1,000,000
🇫🇷 France620,000
🇳🇴 Norway590,000
🇬🇧 UK550,000
🇳🇱 Netherlands340,000
🇰🇷 South Korea300,000
🇨🇦 Canada250,000
🇯🇵 Japan210,000

Source: IEA Global EV Outlook 2023

China is home to over half of the world’s EVs.

Its foothold on the global EV market can be explained by its close proximity to the raw materials used in EV batteries. In fact, China produces roughly 70% of the world’s rare earth metals and has more battery production capacity than all other countries combined.

Adding to this, China developed key government policies that specifically tackled operational hurdles, such as battery constraints, leading to innovation in core technologies. In 2023, EVs made up 31% of all car sales in China, boosted by government incentives and strong consumer demand.

Norway is another leader in the EV market, whose government began introducing EV policies as early as 1990. By 2025, the country aims to phase out internal combustion engine vehicle sales completely. About 80% of all vehicles sales in Norway were EVs in 2022, the highest in the world.

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