End of the American Love Affair?

End of the American Love Affair?

America's love affair with the automobile could be sputtering to an end. About 14 million cars were taken out of action last year, 4 million more than rolled off the assembly lines and onto the roads, a report from the Earth Policy Institute said.

It was the first time since World War II that more cars were scrapped than sold, reducing the size of the US car fleet from a high of 250 million to 246 million. Last year was an extraordinarily bad year for the US industry. Two of the three big car makers, GM and Chrysler, went through bankruptcy and were bailed out by the Government. Sales fell 21.2% from 2008 and the total sales volume was the lowest since 1982.

“The Obama Administration's efforts to spur demand by offering motorists up to $US4500 on trade-ins of older cars and pick-up trucks took 700,000 older models off the road last year.  But that did not affect the total number of vehicles on the road because consumers could take advantage of the scheme only if they replaced their old clunkers with new, more efficient  vehicles. The slump in car sales went beyond the economic recession, said the director of the institute, Lester Brown. Americans might finally have decided that with cars, enough is enough. The country now has 246 million licensed cars for 209 million licensed drivers. ‘This is not a one-time event. We expect the shrinkage to continue into the indefinite future’ Mr  Brown said.

The US has also undergone a transition into a largely urbanised society, with four out of five residents living in towns. Big corporations were now taking congestion into account when planning new offices, Mr Brown said. Washington and other big cities have been raising parking fees to increase revenue, and others are exploring congestion charges. A younger generation - unsure about finding a job after high school or college - was also far less likely to see car ownership as a rite of passage, Mr Brown said. According to the report, the number of teenagers with licences peaked at 12 million in 1978 but was now less than 10 million.

Ref: Suzanne Goldenberg, SMH, 8/1/10