The end of America's car-loving culture?

The U.S. vehicle fleet shrank by 4 million last year, and fewer young people are getting licenses. Great news for parents, but what about automakers?

By Money Staff Jan 8, 2010 5:15PM

By Anna Vander Broek, MSN Money


Facebook-loving teenagers and debt-strapped college grads could mean less work for automakers.

 

The U.S. vehicle fleet shrank by 4 million cars and trucks -- almost 2% -- last year. For the first time since World War II, Americans scrapped more vehicles than they bought. They dumped 14 million of them, compared with 10 million new cars and trucks sold, according to a recent report by the Earth Policy Institute.


One significant factor is that fewer teenagers are getting their driver's licenses. 


The number of young people with licenses peaked at 12 million in 1978 and is now below 10 million, the report says.

 

Several factors -- including young people socializing on the Internet, living in urban areas where cars are unnecessary and taking on more debt such as college loans, which can affect credit needed for a car -- are decreasing the number of young buyers.


Lester Brown, founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute, writes that young people buying fewer cars is just one aspect of a larger cultural shift away the car-loving culture. 

 

All the unwelcome woes of today -- the high price of gas, an unstable economy, rising parking fees -- are prompting Americans to take their foot off the purchasing pedal.


Mother Earth may welcome the reprieve, but this is just one more pothole for American automakers. 2009 was anything but easy for the industry, with government bailouts, bankruptcies, major sales drops and many dealerships closing. 

 

Brown predicts that this trend of scrappage exceeding sales will continue through at least 2020. He believes U.S. auto sales will never again reach the 17 million sold each year between 1999 and 2007. Instead he expects between 10 million and 14 million vehicles sold per year.

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