Car Culture at Dead Man’s Curve. Have We Reached Peak Pick-Up?
July 31, 2013
Univ. of Michigan researcher Michael Sivak has been producing a steady stream of reports hailing the onset of peak car, the high point of American car ownership. Tuesday he released a few more charts hammering home the point and a study showing even pick up truck popularity is on the decline since a peak around 2006.
Peak car happened somewhere around 2004—maybe as late as 2008 depending on how you measure it. (See charts above and below.)
Either way, the conclusion Sivak suggests is a cultural shift away from car culture. “These reductions likely reflect, in part, noneconomic changes in society that influence the need for vehicles (e.g., increased telecommuting, increased use of public transportation, increased urbanization of the population, and changes in the age composition of drivers),” he writes.
Sivak’s paper, “Has Motorization in the U.S. Peaked? Part 2,” posted to the Univ. of Michigan website Tuesday shows how the peak car phenomenon applies to light-duty vehicles as well. That classification includes small commercial trucks, vans, SUVs and pickups, exactly the auto segments you might expect to be resistant to cultural shifts against driving. The people who rely on them need vehicles for work or are more likely to live in rural or suburban areas where giving up a car in favor of transit is less feasible. But nonetheless, peak pickup has also come, he argues.
The peak for miles driven of light-duty vehicles was 2006, 2.77 trillion miles. In 2011, it was 2.65 trillion, a decrease of 5 percent. Similar trends apply to vehicle ownership. “We now have fewer light-duty vehicles and we drive each of them less than a decade ago,” he writes.
Is America’s love affair with the car over?
Or just less torrid?
Some key indicators – such as vehicle use, driver’s license registration, and public-transit ridership – suggest that the 100-year-old Auto Age is waning.
Economics, urbanization, technology, and environmental concerns are changing the way Americans travel, and young people are leading the shift, transportation experts say.
Young people are getting driver’s licenses later or not at all. They take the train or bus or bike to work, or telecommute. If they need a car, they can rent one by the hour.
“It’s so much easier to get around the city without a car,” said Jim Krider, 21, of Havertown. A junior at Temple, he didn’t get his license until he was 20 and doesn’t own a car.
“You don’t have to pay for gas or insurance or the car,” he said.
“I really never had a real need for it,” said Marysia Pomorski, 24, a social worker from Haddonfield, who also waited until she was 20 to get a driver’s license. When she attended Oberlin College in Ohio, she said, she “biked everywhere” and didn’t miss having a car or a license.
Many of her classmates from urban areas were also without licenses, while students from the Midwest “were always very surprised that I didn’t have it, because they wouldn’t have had a choice,” she said.
Although some decline in vehicle use and ownership may be a result of the recession that began in 2008, several important indicators began to decline earlier and may not be reversed by an improving economy.
The declines before 2008 “make me believe something else is going on,” said Michael Sivak, a research professor at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. “Some of the trends are likely to be permanent.”
In a recent paper, “Has Motorization in the U.S. Peaked?,” Sivak noted that vehicles per person, per driver, and per household all peaked in 2006, before the recession began.
Sivak suggested four key factors in the shift from cars:
Economics: It’s more difficult to afford the costs of buying, insuring, and maintaining a car.
The Internet: People can interact, shop, and be entertained without driving somewhere.
Urbanization: Young people and empty nesters are moving to cities where they don’t have to own a car.
The environment: Young people are more environmentally conscious than their elders, interested in burning less gasoline.
Three trends underlie falling U.S. gasoline use: a shrinking car fleet, an overall reduction in driving, and improved fuel efficiency. The number of registered vehicles in the United States rose rather steadily from 1945 to 2008, when it topped out at close to 250 million and then abruptly changed course. As the economic recession hit, new car sales in the United States fell from more than 16 million in 2007 to below 11 million in 2009. For two years, scrappage exceeded new purchases, causing a contraction in the overall size of the fleet. Even with a rebound in sales to nearly 15 million vehicles in 2012, the days of annual sales exceeding 17 million—as seen through the early 2000s—are likely over