February 22nd, 2010
(This article, originally entitled U.S. Car Fleet Shrank by Four Million in 2009 – After a Century of Growth, U.S. Fleet Entering Era of Decline ran on the Earth Policy Institute website in January. Its author, Lester R. Brown is president of the EPI and author of Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization.)
America’s century-old love affair with the automobile may be coming to an end. The U.S. fleet has apparently peaked and started to decline. In 2009, the 14 million cars scrapped exceeded the 10 million new cars sold, shrinking the U.S. fleet by 4 million, or nearly 2 percent in one year. While this is widely associated with the recession, it is in fact caused by several converging forces.
Future U.S. fleet size will be determined by the relationship between two trends: new car sales and cars scrapped. Cars scrapped exceeded new car sales in 2009 for the first time since World War II, shrinking the U.S. vehicle fleet from the all-time high of 250 million to 246 million. It now appears that this new trend of scrappage exceeding sales could continue through at least 2020. (See data.)