Has the United States passed peak car? It's one of the more tantalizing questions that energy and urban-planning nerds are pondering these days. Ever since the recession, Americans have been driving less, getting fewer licenses, and using less gas. But is that just the work of the recession, or something more permanent?
Over the past several months, Michael Sivak of the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute has released a series of short papers chipping away at the peak-car issue. They don't give us a definitive answer. But his findings, collected in a third study released this week, do a marvelous job illustrating the post-bubble decline of car buying, driving, and fuel consumption in the U.S. Here are what I think are his most interesting take-aways.
The Average Household No Longer Owns 2 Cars
Officially, at least. At the height of the housing bubble, there were a shade over two registered cars on the road per household. As of 2011, there were just a shade under two.
So, technically speaking, the two-car garage is no longer average. Realistically speaking, plenty of suburban households have a pair of Explorers or Civics sitting in their driveways. And thanks to population growth, the total number of vehicles on the road has started rising again. (So no need to shed tears for Detroit, yet.) But, in the end, individual families aren't buying quite so many vehicles as a few years ago.