Vehicles: Export background and classification

Aug 16, 2022

International trade in vehicles forms a major part of both UK exports and world trade. This topic defines vehicles as the items falling in Chapter 87 of the Harmonised System of tariffs. This covers motor vehicles including passenger and goods vehicles and parts, components and accessories. It includes bicycles, tricycles and motorbikes, but does not include other forms of transport such as aircraft, ships, or trains, which are classified under separate tariff chapters.

In Practice


Trade in vehicles is the fourth largest category of world trade by value, after electrical machinery, machinery and mineral fuels. In 2021, the total value of global trade in vehicles was just under US$1.5 trillion. Germany was the biggest exporter of vehicles, with 2021 sales reaching US$245 billion, accounting for 16% of global trade. The UK is the world’s 13th largest exporter of vehicles, with sales worth US$40.5 billion.

Exports of vehicles began to decline year-on-year from 2018, following many years of gradual growth. In 2021 the sector recovered strongly from the 15% fall in output during the 2020 pandemic. Increasing demand in developing countries continues but is being met with slowing demand in industrialised markets as uncertainty about the development of electric cars has led to customers delaying purchases.

The US is by some distance the largest importer of vehicles. The market is dominated by North American and European markets with China being the only Asian market among the top 10.

UK Exports of Vehicles

HS87 Vehicles is the third largest product sector for UK goods exports. Total exports in the category amounted to £29 billion in 2021. Exports and production of vehicles grew rapidly in the UK during the first decade of the 21st century but has since stagnated and shown a steady decline in the last three years. Exports fell by almost 40% in 2020 during the pandemic and achieved only a 10% recovery in 2021.

Controls and restrictions on international trade in vehicles vary according to item and country of import. Some items within this range are defined as either military or dual-use items and will often require an export licence when shipped from the UK. See our guide to Export Controls for more information.

Import tariffs on vehicles vary considerably, mainly according to whether the country or customs union of import has a domestic industry to protect. Many countries impose relatively high rates of duty on imports of vehicles and parts because they view them as a luxury item. There are usually stringent safety requirements, and increasingly there are requirements on emissions, and exporters need to understand these before negotiating a sale. Refer to the Country Pages for more information.


Chapter 87 of the Harmonised System of tariffs, despite covering a very large volume of international trade, is a relatively short chapter of the tariff, carrying just 16 categories at the four-digit level as follows.

8701Tractors (other than tractors of heading 8709)
8702Motor vehicles for the transport of ten or more persons, including the driver
8703Motor cars and other motor vehicles principally designed for the transport of persons (other than those of heading 8702), including station wagons and racing cars
8704Motor vehicles for the transport of goods
8705Special purpose motor vehicles, other than those principally designed for the transport of persons or goods (for example, breakdown lorries, crane lorries, fire fighting vehicles, concrete-mixer lorries, road sweeper lorries, spraying lorries, mobile workshops, mobile radiological units)
8706Chassis fitted with engines, for the motor vehicles of headings 8701 to 8705
8707Bodies (including cabs), for the motor vehicles of headings 8701 to 8705
8708Parts and accessories of the motor vehicles of headings 8701 to 8705
8709Works trucks, self-propelled, not fitted with lifting or handling equipment, of the type used in factories, warehouses, dock areas or airports for short distance transport of goods; tractors of the type used on railway station platforms; parts of the foregoing vehicles
8710Tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles, motorised, whether or not fitted with weapons, and parts of such vehicles
8711Motorcycles (including mopeds) and cycles fitted with an auxiliary motor, with or without sidecars; sidecars
8712Bicycles and other cycles (including delivery tricycles), not motorised
8713Carriages for disabled persons, whether or not motorised or otherwise mechanically propelled
8714Parts and accessories of vehicles of headings 8711 to 8713
8715Baby carriages and parts thereof
8716Trailers and semi-trailers; other vehicles, not mechanically propelled; parts thereof

More than half of the value of world exports under HS87 are accounted for by just one from the above groups, 8703 (motor cars and other motor vehicles). 

check our news for more in-depth information on customs regulations, importing and exporting vehicles.

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