gift-wrapped car in China

One billion. To put such a lofty figure in perspective, let's look at it this way: 1,000,000,000. One with nine zeros. It's gonna take a lot of fingers and toes for us to count that high.

Why do we care? According the number crunchers over at Wards Auto, 2010 marked the first year that the worldwide vehicle populated crested the magic billion-unit mark. That's a 3.6-percent rise over the figure recorded in 2009, and it's also the largest single-year percentage increase since 2000.

As you'd expect, much of that growth can be attributed to the rapidly expanding Chinese economy. The total number of vehicles registered in China in 2010 came in at a bit over 78 million, a 27.5-percent surge, which puts the country over the figure recorded in Japan but still far behind the nearly 240 million registered vehicles in the United States.

Here's where things get really interesting: Here in the States, there is one vehicle for every 1.3 people living. In other words, just about everyone of legal driving age has a car, or two, or three. In China, that ratio is one car for every 17 people. In India, there are a whopping 56.3 people per registered vehicle.

In other words, you can expect our worldwide vehicular population to continue growing in leaps and bounds for many, many more years.