Reports from two different, respected institutions have been making waves in the automotive world for coming to the same conclusion; America, and the world, are past the point of automotive saturation, and rather than seeing sales expand, in a few short decades the auto industry could experience a massive contraction to the tune of tens of millions of units.
The University of Michigan’s Transportation Institute released a study on the car driving and buying habits of Americans, and it isn’t a very rosy picture. Since 2007, the number of households without a car at all has increased from 8.7% to 9.2%. In major metro areas, where many young people are flocking to, the number of people who don’t own a car is even higher.
In New York City, 56% of people don’t own a car, meaning car owners are actually a minority. 38% of Washington D.C. go without their own car, as do 37% of Boston residents. Surprisingly, Philadelphia (33%) is less into the whole car ownership thing than San Francisco (31%), though a shockingly high number of Motor City residents (26%) don’t partake in their city’s primary industry.
IHS Automotive, meanwhile, put out another story that looks at the auto industry as a whole and the prospective markets going forward. While many auto companies are touting growth in developing nations, sales in countries like China, Brazil, India, and Russia are hitting a wall. While the Chinese auto market is now the biggest in the world, the government is currently working to seriously curtail car ownership as incredible levels of pollution choke cities like Beijing.
The IHS report says that by 2035, the auto industry could see sales fall by some 30 million units annually, and worldwide car usage could drop to just 250 million vehicles. It is currently estimated that there are as many as a billion cars on the road, somewhere, these days, which would mean auto ownership would have to pretty much take a nosedive. That seems either crazy optimistic or apocalyptically devastating, depending on whom you ask. Then again, the first signs of rebellion against car ownership are already cropping up.
Some cities are going even further though, laying down plans to outright ban cars from the inner metro. Hamburg, Germany is working out the details of a centralized “Green Network” plan that by 2034 would ban cars from 40% of the city proper. Could an American metro like New York deliver on a similar plan? It wasn’t all that long ago that cars didn’t even exist, but cities like New York and Hamburg have been around for centuries.
I love cars and all, but as many millennials already know, it’s both difficult and expensive to keep a car in a crowded urban area. So many of us are learning to just live without a car, or at best splitting a car with our spouse. Then again, there’s good reason to believe that we haven’t hit “peak car” quite yet. Maybe it’s time we seriously start considering if some places wouldn’t be better off without the congestion or convenience offered by cars.
One thing we’ll have to figure out…what to do with all of those empty parking lots?