Peak Car

The Atlantic has a very brief, but interesting comment on the idea of “Peak Car” in the USA.

Personally I can well believe that there is such a thing as peak car in a long term trend sense. The world evolves, we become more urbanised, slowly (in some cases far too slowly) public transport links are being enhanced after decades of neglect and in small ways IT connections are providing substitutes for moving people (the obvious telecommuting but also things like streaming video replacing cinema trips). Perhaps most importantly urban congestion is spreading to more and more suburbs and making car travel less and less attractive (although this may have a bigger impact on measures such as miles travelled than it does on cars owned).

As a side note, I am presuming that the per household car count declines more due to more breakups of households/not forming new families and hence an effect from shrinking households is added onto the per person car ownership effect.

The problem is that on top of this long term trend we have superimposed short term fluctuations. Fuel prices, interest rates, stimulus, house and asset price changes can all impact on people’s ability/willingness to shell out for expensive cars.

Historically the trend for car ownership has been ever upward as prices have dropped and wealth has increased, and the graphs posted show this familiar pattern. Is the recent decline from a global peak or will the trend push back up? The timing of the fall coinciding with economic turmoil and the stabilization/recovery coinciding with (slightly) better economic times in the USA suggests to me that this fall is a shorter term affair due to transitory economic factors.

USA may have peak car soon, but I am not convinced that this is it yet.

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