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Has the U.S. Reached a Saturation Point for Light Vehicles?

Posted: June 20, 2013 at 11:35 am

The total number of light-duty vehicles on the road in America is likely to set new highs soon. But the number of vehicles per licensed driver and per household might continue a slide that began about a decade ago, according to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

UMTRI research scientist Michael Sivak notes that registered light-duty vehicles in the U.S. peaked at 236.4 million units in 2008. His analysis shows the number slid to about 230 million by 2010, probably because of the economic downturn during that period.

Volume has since rebounded and, thanks to continuing strong new-car sales, appears likely to set a new high soon, according to Sivak.

But his analysis also shows that ratios of cars per household, per licensed driver and per total population began to plateau in 2001. All three measures have been slipping since 2006—two years before the recession began.

Sivak points to an upturn in telecommuting and greater use of public transportation as possible causes. Such societal changes, he says, could signal a long-term decline in America’s concentration of vehicles.