U.S. Auto Fleet Shrunk by 2 Percent in 2009

The Earth Policy Institute, a Washington-based environmental research organization, reports that 14 million clunkers in the United States were scrapped last year while only 10 million were bought, resulting in a reduction in the nation’s auto fleet of 2%.

Speaking with reporters in a recent conference call, E.P.I president Lester Brown said, “This shrinkage of nearly 2% is without precedent, except in wartime.”

He said that the massive drop in car sales in the U.S. was caused mainly by the recession and a similar decline has not been seen since World War II. Brown also said that social and economic factors such as lack of interest in cars among young Americans and the saturation of the market are also to blame.

Brown went on to say that the trend will most likely continue over the next decade, no matter how strong the economic recovery. If that happens, the U.S. fleet, which is now around 250 million vehicles, could possibly fall 10% over the next ten years.

“We expect this shrinkage to continue for the indefinite future,” Brown said. In other countries, such as Japan and many European nations, auto fleets either stabilized or declined years ago. However, in China vehicle sales are rocketing upward with monthly sales much higher than in the U.S. for the first time.

As the numbers for China and India and other growing markets surge, the number of vehicles in the worldwide fleet is expected to grow despite declines in other areas, including North America.

The stabilization of the American car fleet, which is the biggest in the world, has a huge impact on the global and domestic economy, says Brown. During the years between 1994 and 2007, between 15 and 17 million vehicles were sold annually. The waning demand for new cars in the U.S. will be felt worldwide.

Brown also mentioned that there will be positive aspects to having fewer cars on American roads. Fewer cars combined with higher mandated fuel efficiency requirements will mean lower demand and decreased spending on foreign oil. In 2007, The U.S. spent $327 billion on oil imports.

Other benefits of fewer cars include less construction and road repair and decreased traffic congestion. Brown says that this could mean that the country would have billions to spend on public transportation projects.

He also noted that fewer vehicles on the roads could reduce global warming emissions, saying, “Carbon emissions from the auto sector are going to be going down in a way I don’t think we’ve anticipated.”

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