Global auto industry faces Peak Car, fewer drivers

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Faced with increased pollution and gridlock in the world’s mega-cities, driving is on the decline for commuters weary of snarled traffic and extended quests for parking.

In the United States, younger workers are ditching the idea of auto ownership and flocking to bicycles, shared vehicles and public transportation say Jeff Green and Keith Naughton in Cars are also lasting longer on the road.

Auto manufacturers are looking at “Peak Car,” the leveling-off of global car sales, sometime in the next decade, according to researchers at IHS Automotive—with sales peaking at 100 million vehicles. Those dynamics fly in the face of industry ambitions, which IHS estimates as more than 120 million units built by 2016, doubling last year’s 82 million vehicles.

China’s growing customer base does provide a counterpoint to Peak Car, as driving in the region’s 1.3 billion people is on the rise, spurred on by the privilege, independence and status of car ownership. Global auto sales rose 46 percent in the decade from 2000-2009, where China surpassed auto sales in the U.S. The Chinese bought 22 million cars last year, a number expected to increase to 30 million in 2020.

Balancing the skyrocketing Chinese car ownership is the combination of growing gridlock and pollution, forcing the county’s administration to place restrictions on licensing drivers to check auto sales, Bloomberg reports.

With most of the world’s population — up to 9 billion people by 2025 — living in or near urban centers, younger people are forgoing driver’s licenses, once a rite of passage in the U.S. In 1983, 87.3 percent of American 19-year-olds had a driver’s license; in 2010, that number dropped to 69.5 percent, according to transportation experts at the University of Michigan. Auto ownership has also dropped; one in ten homes in the U.S. does not have a car, a 5.7 percent increase in five years.

A new study by technology giant Intel found that 44 percent of Americans would prefer to live in a city featuring autonomous “driverless” cars.

But the desire for mobility has not changed, says Transit Research Program director Steve Polzin of the University of South Florida in Tampa.

“If the resources are there, people cherish mobility — we can’t underestimate the importance of that,” Polzin adds. “A car is 60 percent mobility and 40 percent ego.”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.