We Americans love our cars, (or at least that’s what they’ve been telling us all these years) but this last year showed a remarkable drop in car ownership – down by 4,000,000 vehicles! Some may blame it on the recession, but analysts are linking the decline to other factors like increased urbanization, gas prices, traffic and congestion, automobile saturation and even concerns regarding climate change. This is welcome news to us and we hope this trend continues, with more people relying on public transportation, car sharing, bikes, and their own two feet.
A study by the Earth Policy Institute updated yesterday revealed that while Americans purchased 10,000,000 cars in 2009, they actually ditched 14,000,000 cars. This decline in the US car fleet by 2% could be a great sign of what is to come in terms of transportation preferences for the US. 2009 was the first year since WWII that the number of cars scrapped exceeded the number of cars sold, and more importantly the EPI study predicts that this trend will continue at least through 2020. The US car fleet is currently at 246 million cars dropping down from 250 at the beginning of 2009.
The EPI attributes the decline to many important factors, not just the recession. With 209 million licensed drivers in the US and 246 million registered vehicles, the analysts believe we have reached a market saturation. With five cars to every four drivers in the US, we certainly have enough cars to go around. Additionally, the analysts believe that other market factors are leading to the decline, like “ongoing urbanization, economic uncertainty, oil insecurity, rising gasoline prices, frustration with traffic congestion, mounting concerns about climate change, and a declining interest in cars among young people.”
As our cities become denser, traffic gets worse and public transportation systems improve, people feel it is less and less necessary to have their own vehicle. In some cases it may be more of an inconvenience to deal with parking, traffic, associated fees like insurance and gasoline. Cars will certainly still have their place in rural settings, but with four out of five Americans living in an urban setting, we can only hope the trend will continue just as it did in Japan in the early 90’s. As Japan became more urbanized, they reached their car saturation point in 1990 and since then, their car fleet has dropped by 21%. This is most definitely promising news. Now let’s work on that high speed rail system.