Oblivion is a sure thing when economists stop counting the things you produce. Now that ‘New Car Sales’ have lost their relevance as a key economic indicator, the end of our love affair with cars can’t be too far behind.
The facts are simple and clear: Sales halved in the US from 11 million in 1985 to 5.5 million in 2009; Japan sales peaked in the 1990s and “demotorisation” is now a topic of popular debate; ‘The West’ had its tipping point in 2004 as the number of kilometers travelled started to decline – with numbers in the UK now down 15% since then.
And, counter-intuitively, the decline is most profound in car-dependent suburbs. Is this just a result of the global economic slowdown or something more profound?
The biggest fall in car usage has been in the under-35 category and the percentage of 18-year-olds who have driving licences has fallen dramatically since 1998.
Young lifestyles have changed to prefer inner-city apartments, walkable suburbs and work locations; and more online relationships have increasingly replaced face to face meetings.
Expenditure on a car can sometimes seem ‘irrational’.
It seems as if the young generations have not inherited their parents’ love affair with the car. They appear to have gone quite ‘cool’ about the automobile.
Fred Pearce coined a classic concept in his 2011 article in New Scientist, saying: “The modern James Dean is a rebel without a car.”
These current trends away from the automobile seem to be typical of the increasingly less affluent developed world.
In developing nations it’s like the Fifties and Sixties in the West – cities like Beijing, Mumbai and Sao Paulo are still engaged in a ‘new car’ feeding frenzy, and there are no indications of a change in that trend.