2009 was not a good year for car sales. No surprises there. An interesting side effect of lowered sales last year, though, is that the total number of vehicles in the overall U.S. car fleet dropped. There were 250 million cars here in 2008, and only 246 million at the end of 2009. We may have been buying fewer cars than we usually do in a year – there were around 10 million sold in 2009 – but we still got rid of 14 million units.

Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, will be speaking to reporters Wednesday about why he thinks these numbers mean that "America's century-old love affair with the automobile may be coming to an end." Part of Brown's reasoning is that he sees the shrinking U.S. fleet trend continuing through 2020 thanks to market saturation, economic uncertainty and a "declining interest in cars among young people who have grown up in cities," among other factors. The end result? Brown believes the shrinking fleet "will also largely eliminate the need for building new streets and highways, and will set the stage for increased investment in public transit and high-speed intercity rail." Is Brown on to something, or will a widely-expected rebound in new car sales due to pent-up demand render his argument spurious? Check out the EPI's press release after the jump, then be sure to leave your thoughts on the matter in 'Comments.'

[Source: Earth Policy Institute | Image: kodiax2 - C.C. License 2.0]


PRESS RELEASE:

U.S. Car Fleet Shrinks by Four Million in 2009
After a Century of Growth, U.S. Fleet Entering Era of Decline

WASHINGTON, DC – Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, will report that America's century-old love affair with the automobile may be coming to an end during a teleconference with reporters on Wednesday, January 6th at 11:00 AM EST.

In 2009, the 14 million cars scrapped exceeded the 10 million new cars sold, shrinking the U.S. fleet by 4 million-nearly two percent in just one year. The U.S. fleet, totaling 250 million in 2008, dropped to 246 million in 2009. Brown thinks this shrinkage will continue through 2020.

Brown says there are several reasons for this decline. "One is market saturation. The United States now has 246 million registered motor vehicles and 209 million licensed drivers-nearly 5 vehicles for every 4 drivers. Other reasons for the U.S. car fleet shrinkage are ongoing urbanization, economic uncertainty, oil insecurity, the prospect of higher gasoline prices, the rising costs of traffic congestion, mounting concerns about climate change, and the declining interest in cars among young people who have grown up in cities."

This shrinkage in the national fleet combined with gains in fuel efficiency will steadily reduce U.S. oil consumption and carbon emissions. It will also largely eliminate the need for building new streets and highways, and will set the stage for increased investment in public transit and high-speed intercity rail.

WHAT: Teleconference with Lester Brown on the shrinking U.S. car fleet
WHO: Lester Brown, founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute and author of Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization
WHEN: Wednesday, January 6 at 11:00 a.m., EST