Report: The American Car Fleet Is Shrinking

Could the nation be turning away from its decades-old yen for auto
ownership? Americans got rid of more cars than they purchased in 2009,
reversing a trend that saw total U.S. vehicles exceed the number of
drivers more than 35 years ago, according to a report released today by the Earth Policy Institute (EPI).

update87_driversandcars.JPG(Chart: EPI)

Using data from the Federal Highway Administration and the consulting firm Polk & Co., EPI projected that the U.S. auto fleet fell to 246 million last year, a drop of nearly 2 percent.

president Lester Brown, the report’s author, attributed the decline to
several factors, including urban transit expansion and market
saturation. Brown wrote:

The car promised mobility, and in a
largely rural United States it delivered. But with four out of five
Americans now living in cities, the growth in urban car numbers at some
point provides just the opposite: immobility.

209 million U.S. drivers on the road, the nation still owns an average
of more than 1 vehicle per eligible user. If the 2009 trend continues,
according to today’s report, the total number of American cars could
fall to 225 million by 2020, similar to levels seen about 10 years ago.

EPI’s prediction that the nation is entering a new period of declining car purchases tracks with data pointing to
American auto sales in the 11.5 million range for 2010 — a high
number, to be sure, but distinctly lower than the 17 million-plus in
sales notched during the SUV’s heyday in the early 2000s.

much of a role did the Obama administration’s "cash for clunkers"
program play in the high rates of auto scrappage last year? The
taxpayer-funded rebates persuaded car owners to get rid of 700,000 vehicles, less than one-quarter of the 4 million relinquished vehicles estimated by EPI.

  • David Galvan

    One quarter of the loss is nothing to shake a stick at. That’s very significant. I am still glad cash-for-clunkers happened. It helped to get a lot of older, less fuel efficient vehicles off the road.

  • DJB

    I wouldn’t get too excited about this. What about the recession (you can see little leveling offs in the early 1990s recession and the early 2000s recession too)? Maybe people are putting off car purchases and selling cars in desperation. Also, didn’t C4C only apply when you bought a new car? So it wouldn’t have reduced the number of cars people own on balance.

    If the vehicle ownership rate goes down in a strong economy, then I’ll think something significant is happening to our transportation patterns.

  • I think people are putting off car purchases and selling cars in desperation. Better in this year.

  • I imagine a lot of people are getting rid of cars and not buying since they can’t HELOC a new secondary BMW every year anymore.

    I hate that cash 4 clunkers took supposedly perfectly usable cars and destroyed them, all in the name of building more cars to sell. To build a car is not an environmental friendly process. Neither is junking the car. I have no idea why this was a plus for the earth.


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