Have we hit "Peak Car" without even noticing? And is that really a bad thing? It might be if we lose automakers to things that make appliances with four wheels.
The threat of hitting that maximum amount of car usage globaly should be a constant fear for automakers, many of which are staring death in the face in the aftermath of recession and the lack of vigor (vitality, not Acuras) shown by the world economy. The question remains whether or not there's enough of a market for new cars for automakers, or if they need to prepare for a market where car ownership is not nearly as prevalent as it used to be.
An article on Thursday from Quartz suggested some countries have already hit the maximum number of vehicles and demand for new cars is never going to reach the highs of a decade ago. Countries like China and India may be growing, but it might not be enough to sustain the drop in demand from Europe and North America. What's more, if things like Beijing's crazy smog problem continue to happen, what's to say car demand won't level off or drop in those growth spots?
This is potentially catastrophic for car fans because of what a Ford executive told this Quartz reporter:
The term car companies use for this is "global gridlock," and I learned it this summer at a publicity event hosted by Ford, the world's fifth-largest automaker by volume, in Detroit. Sheryl Connelly, the company's futurist, walked journalists through a number of the trends mentioned above and explained how they motivated Ford's transition from an automaker to "enablers of mobility."
What the hell is an enabler of mobility? Sounds like a company that builds things like buses or trains or autonomous things that require no input other than a plugging-in or voice command and verification to confirm you really wanted to take the long way to the airport.
It's Millennials working against carmakers and you think we'd have fallen for all of the ways marketing departments have been trying to court us. While I still aspire to have my perfect 20-car garage, most of my friends have no interest in cars, and wouldn't mind if they didn't own one. First of all, they're saddled with debt when they get out of college. And second, we creative types tend to live in cities that are not particularly friendly to cars, like San Francisco, Boston and New York. An article in The Atlantic back in August suggests we are the "cheapest generation," and I see that.
But there are some of us Millennials who really do like cars and want to own them, even those of us who (want to) live in cities. I lived in Boston and rarely missed having a car, because the roads were designed by a crazy person and the drivers there are real Massholes.
The threat of Peak Car, though, or the fact we've already hit it, is scary because of the response automakers like Ford seem to be taking. Those of us who want to drive don't want to be driving wheeled phablets, after all.
Photo credit Richard Masoner