How Many Cars Does A Person Need?
Ryan Avent shows us an interesting table, showing that the USA has way more cars per person than anyone else in the world. It makes some sense, it is a big country without good public transport or rail system. But Canada is even bigger, and the rail and transit isn't much better. What could account for such a spread?
Felix Salmon at Reuters suspects that the American rate will fall significantly, which does not bode well for the auto industry but might overall be a good thing.
The US has vastly more cars per 1,000 people than any other major nation. Canada, for instance, has only 563 vehicles per 1,000 people — less than three-quarters of the US figure. For America to even approach that level would be unprecedented in living memory, but there's really no particular reason why the average American needs 36% more cars than the average Canadian. If you're losing say 15 cars per 1,000 people per year, it would take over 14 years to get down to Canadian levels of car ownership.
If we've learned anything over the past decade, it's that things can stay at unsustainable levels for much longer than anybody might imagine. And over the medium term, it's far from obvious that auto sales in the 9-10 million range are really as unsustainable as all that. Not only don't we need to get back to "a typical replacement rate"; it's actually very unlikely we will ever again see the rates of car ownership that prevailed before the crash. That was a world of 3-car garages in exurban McMansions; we're moving into a more sustainable way of living, which involves fewer cars and higher urban density. Those black squares in the graph above are going to start marching downwards for many years to come. Which means that the wiggly lines aren't ever going to regain their prior peaks.
So we are going to probably have a smaller car industry making smaller cars.
More on the proliferation of Cars:
Deeply Scary Statistic? 203,000 Partially Paid Orders for Tata Nano
"US Department Of Dreaming" Projects Light-Duty Vehicle Sales To 2030
China Overtakes the U.S., Japan As World's Number One In Vehicle Sales
A Picture is Worth: Unsold Hondas
End of the Line for American Auto Makers? Paul Krugman Thinks So