Currently reading: From the archive: Finding out where the car has a future
We recount motoring consultant Edward Reeves' travels as he finds out which countries embraced what cars

There isn't a country on Earth without a significant automotive population, despite the car being a recent invention.

Today, there are 1.5 billion globally. A century ago, there were just 0.017 billion – almost 90% of them in the US.

As such, the 1924 observations of Edward Reeve, having toured the world as a consultant after a distinguished engineering career at Wolseley, are truly fascinating.

“In Syria [then French], Egypt and Palestine [British], the car is making great headway in replacing the multifarious transportation methods. In Jerusalem, although motoring is still in its infancy, many trade opportunities occur.

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“In Cairo, Africa’s largest city, with nearly one million people, there are many possibilities. The roads are first class and cars are plentiful.” Today, congested Cairo has a population of 22 million.

Reeve went on: “I’m enthusiastic regarding commercial possibilities in [imperial] India and no British industry has greater opportunities than [cars]. In Delhi, many roads are now excellent and, with new ones being constructed or old ones improved, demand must rapidly increase.

"In Agra, one is amazed at the variety of transportation. Many of these methods will sooner or later be entirely superseded.” India now has 3.9 million miles of road for 320 million vehicles.

“Not a great deal of alteration in design is necessary to some British models to make them eminently suitable for Ceylon [now Sri Lanka], but it is of paramount importance that such alterations [like a 4ft 8in track] should be made. Too often we find local conditions ignored.

“In Sumatra [Dutch Indonesia], the macadam roads are good but in many cases narrow. The small number of cars is surprising.

“In Java, British, Italian and American cars are much in evidence. Conditions are good and the main roads compare well with our best cities..Silent gearchanging is not the natives’ forte, so a low first gear is essential.

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“The place of most varied interest I visited was Singapore. The roads are built on British lines and Tarmac is generally employed. Cars are plentiful. The country appears very prosperous. I consider it will become one of the finest business centres of the East.” Very prescient, sir: today, it’s in the top 10% for national wealth.

“In the [US-run] Philippines, the roads are poor and driving distances is anything but a luxury. The water buffalo is still employed in the streets, but it is gradually being replaced by cheap cars.”

Regrettably, Manila is now the most clogged city in South-East Asia, with 2.5 million vehicles.

“In Canton, the bazaar method of business prevails and the city is a labyrinth of dark, narrow streets. As such, mechanical transport can not be employed with advantage.” Further hindering its prospects, a great many lived on the river.

Look up modern Guangzhou, home of car-making giant GAC, and you just wouldn’t believe it.

“In Shanghai, the world’s most cosmopolitan city, cars from all nations are in daily use and roads are generally good. While the number of rickshaw men is decreasing, it was patent that thousands still ply for hire.”

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Beijing looked ripe – once the roads had been reconditioned and so long as cars had screens for the frequent dust storms. With some 300 million cars, China is now the biggest market – despite private ownership not existing until the 1990s.

Of Japan, Reeve said: “I’m unable to describe adequately the beauty of this country or the charm of its people.” The damage caused by the Great Kanto earthquake appalled him, but Tokyo’s wide roads looked ideal for cars – once the terrible problem of mud had been solved.

“The Ishikawajima Engineering Co is now making cars. This is on a small scale, but I believe [it] has a great future, not only in Japan,” he added of what became Isuzu. Evidently, the global car market was about to bear fruit. Who would grab it?

The British, Reeve opined, needed to design more universal products and make them more economically, using the moving-line system of the Americans, who had to do the same plus improve reliability and cut running costs. Ultimately, of course, a much wider array of baskets was filled.

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