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Matt Smith

Matt Smith

Taking a voyage across the world of energy with ClipperData’s Director of Commodity Research. Follow on Twitter @ClipperData, @mattvsmith01

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Has the U.S. Reached Peak Car?

There have been a number of recent research reports addressing the notion of ‘Peak Car’ – whether driving has peaked per person in the US. So here are a bunch of interesting tidbits and nuggets I have gleaned from the reports ‘A New Direction‘ and ‘Has Motorization in the US Peaked?’, as well as an update on miles driven….it’s all downhill from here.

Pedal to the Metal

–From the end of World War II to 2004 (known as ‘the Driving Boom’), Americans drove more miles nearly every year
–The driving boom coincided with the Baby Boom - a bubble of those born between 1946 and 1964
–By 2004, the average American was driving 85% more miles than in 1970
–Between 1980 and 2010, freeway capacity (measured in lane-miles) expanded by 35%

Hitting The Brakes

–The peak driving age group is that of 35-54 year-olds
–The total number of 35-54 year-olds is set to tail off by the end of this decade
–Meanwhile, the share of the population of those 65 and older is set to increase dramatically by 2040

Miles Driven

Related article: Tesla: ‘False Profits’ and a Bullish Market

–In 1980, the age group of 65 and older made up 11% of the population. By 2040 this share is expected to reach 21%
–By 1992, 90% of the driving age population could drive, but by 2011 this had fallen to 86% – the lowest level in 30 years
–In 2011, 67% of 16-34 year-olds had a license, the lowest level since at last 1963
–Inflation-adjusted gasoline prices have doubled in the last decade
–Young people aged 16 -34 drove 23% fewer miles in 2009 than in 2001
–From 2001 – 2009,  the number of passenger miles travelled by those aged 16-34 on public transport increased 40%
–Americans took nearly 10% more trips via public transportation in 2011 than in 2005

Driving It Home

–The absolute number of cars peaked in 2008, at 236.4 million
–This translates to nearly 2 vehicles per household, over 1 car per licensed driver, and 0.75 vehicles per person

Vehicle Registration Rate

–Although ‘The Great Recession‘ is likely to blame for the drop-off in vehicles since 2008, a growing population (increasing 11% from 2011 to 2025) means we will likely see a higher number of vehicles on the road in the future.

Related article: As Climate Change Worsens, US Corn Ethanol becomes Uneconomical

Conclusion

–Although we may not have peaked in terms of total vehicles in the US, we have likely peaked in terms of ‘Peak Car’ – aka miles driven per person
–Whether this slow-down is due to telecommuting, changing demographics, higher fuel costs, online shopping, or increased use of public transport, the evidence points to a turning tide in terms of miles driven:

Vehicle Miles Driven

Thanks for playing, and keep on trucking…or don’t, as the case may be…

By. Matt Smith


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