The car was one of the icons of post-World War II Americana. Soldiers came home from the war, bought an American car with as much chrome as they could afford and moved to the suburbs to raise a family. A new study from University of Michigan’s Transportation Research institute indicates, however, that American car consumption may have reached its peak and is now falling.
The study looked at the rate of households that do not own a car from 2005 to 2012, and then examined this rate in America’s 30 largest cities between 2007 and 2012. In 2007, 8.7% of US households did not own a car, and that figure grew to 9.2% in 2012. However, in the largest cities, the rate of families without cars is much higher. From 2007 to 2012, families in 21 of the 30 largest cities decreased their car ownership. The six largest cities all had car-less rates above 30%. New York topped the list at 56.5% of families without cars.
For commuters, this should be greeted as great news. It means fewer cars on the road, which can contribute to lighter traffic. Auto enthusiasts also get more open roads to enjoy. However, for automakers it means that competition will get even tighter, and they will have to fight that much harder for every sale to appeal to a smaller pool of buyers. Nobody is saying that the American love affair with the car is dead, but maybe we have just entered into the comfortable period of the marriage.
Subjectively, all that’s diminished my family’s car involvement is my retirement. If I was still working, I’d be driving about as much as previously. But, I’d be driving one of the new Ram 1500’s with the small V6 diesel – and probably averaging about 26mpg. My wife’s new Ford averages 40mpg on her daily commute. Fossil fuel consumption in our family has diminished about 35% per mile traveled.
When I first retired, I often hopped in my old pickup and went to town for a single item. Now, those trips are collated into an addition coming and going from our weekly grocery shopping. Miles traveled in total are down 30-40%.
Thorough, inclusive public transit only works with reasonable urban density – requiring sensible politicians and/or a thoughtful electorate willing to invest in infrastructure. Apparently, that’s actually happening in a number of cities. Automobile transport is maturing in use, leveling off; but, then, that’s beginning to happen with family size, too.
All in all, we’re getting smarter. That’s in the existential sense, folks. Nothing to do with brain cells.