Is America Losing Its Drive? – Pt. 3 Vehicles per 1000 Persons
In private communication, Roger Chittum got me thinking about the vehicle component of gasoline consumption. I’m going focus on the gross vehicle numbers, and not get too deeply into the car/truck/SUV product mix detail. Data is from the Department of Energy TRANSPORTATION ENERGY DATA BOOK: EDITION 30—2011. (Warning: 414 page pdf.)
According to Table 3-5 on page 3-9, vehicle ownership, measured as vehicles (both cars and trucks) per 1000 population, peaked in 2007 at 843.57, and dropped by 1.88% to 828.04 in 2009, two years later. Data presented in the source is from 1900 to 2009. This graph shows the data from 1950 to 2009. Recessions are highlighted in red.
During the post WW II era up to 1982, recessions might have slowed the growth of vehicle ownership, but they did not cause a decline. Even the severe recession of 1958 only caused a flat spot on the curve.
This changed with the double dip recessions of 1980 to 1982.
The reduction from 1981 to ’82 is miniscule. But since then, every recession has led to a significant reduction from the previous year. As an aside, this is one more time series that shows a change in character right around 1980.
This source indicates the most recent value for the U.S. is 765, though it’s not clear what “most recent” means. If this is accurate, then ownership has back-tracked to the 1994 level. This would correspond to a 7.6% drop from 2009, and an astounding 9.3% drop from the 2007 peak. I don’t believe it; but that value is indicated with a red dot on the next graph, as a point of reference.
I’ve also included some best fit straight lines to show how the slope has changed over time. The decreasing slope and more serious response to recessions might result from a market being close to saturation, but that’s just a guess.
One of the reasons I’m skeptical of the red dot point is that new vehicle sales have recovered substantially from the 2009 low, as this graph from Calculated Risk demonstrates. (The August, 2009 spike is the cash for clunkers event.)
This might not be enough to stop a continuing slide in the vehicles per 1000 population number, but I think it’s enough to keep it from falling off a cliff.
Another perspective on vehicle use comes from Table 3.3 on page 3-5 of the Data Book. This graph shows the Federal Highway Administration estimate of vehicles in use.
Except for recessions (highlighted in red on the total line) growth of the total vehicle count has been been quite constant over four decades. But, since the mid 80’s, car sales have been stagnant. All of the growth since then has come from truck sales. It will be interesting to see how these trends develop over the next few years.
Cross posted at Retirement Blues
there sure have been a lot of posts on driving & gas prices this week…this one may be relevant to your analysis:
Study: Americans driving old cars longer than ever – Americans are keeping new and used vehicles longer because of better quality, concern about debt and economic uncertainty, according to a report released today by research firm R.L. Polk. Based on data collected in the third quarter of 2011, new vehicle owners kept them an average of 71.4 months, or nearly six years, the longest in the eight years Polk has done the survey, and nearly two years longer than the average life of ownership in 2003. The trend was similar for used cars and trucks, which consumers kept an average of 49.9 months, also a record, and up from 32.2 months in early 2003. Consumer spending remains conservative in a still-weak job market with relatively high unemployment rates. Many buyers have longer-term financing options to secure more affordable payments. In addition, vehicles produced in recent years have been more durable and reliable than their predecessors.
Thanks for the link. That is probably the best data available. Polk is contracted as the official data source for the concerned government agencies.
I got interested because of Karl Smith’s post, linked in part 1 of this series. As I dug into it, more interesting data surfaced. I come from the auto industry, so this stuff is especially interesting to me.
Interesting how many graphs show a change in slope around 1980. Wonder why.
Mike Kimel pointed out pre-1980, mostly Keynesian economics, Post-1980, the opposite.
Ditto import tariffs.
Reaganomics: tax cuts, deregulation, decline of unions, stagnating wages. See my series: Where has all the money gone.
Or were you being rhetorical?
The change from trucks to cars I suspect is the change of tastes to SUV modeled vehicles including short bed, double cab pickups that happened in the mid 80’s onward. This truck trend would suggest a higher fuel usage overall. You park one of these, and the effect on fuel use is much more significant.
In a saturated market, would we not expect to see a down turn more clearly? If the market is not saturated, then there is room for sales to offset those who put off buying. Add longer lifespan of the product and any negative begines to look big as it relates to sales. We won’t know what sales really are until we have gone the another decade as cars from 2000 easily lasted 10 to 12 years and well into 200k miles. That means we have to see how what happens 10 years out from the current crop of new cars to know if this is the new norm. I think the new norm includes people having learned the negatives that come from leasing. An awful lot of people woke up to the pleasure of having no car payments with a purchase after time vs a new car leased every 3 years.
It will be interesting to see fuel use as we finally take the technology of engines that has gone into keeping engines the same size but increasing horse power to reducing engine size and keeping horse power the same. Clyde thougth 87 hp was the bomb in his Fords. People plowed snow all day long in International Scouts with 65 hp.
here’s yesterday’s post from stuart staniford Recent Acceleration of US Oil Efficiency
this chart is especiially interesting…
rjs, above, linked to Early Warning. Here’s Stuart’s latest post:
I might be suffering from a bit of confirmation bias, though. 😉