In 2008, high fuel prices led U.S. drivers to driver less total distance for the first time ever. In 2009, it was the number of cars that declined. The United States actually scrapped more cars that it put into service, reducing the total number of cars by nearly 2 percent.
This brings up the obvious question: if we’re scrapping cars faster than we’re making, do we really need to be making more cars? The simple answer is no. We could keep the cars we have running for as long as we wanted to. Look closer at the question, and you would say that there is some need to make new cars, both for the thrill that buying a new car provides some people and to replace cars that are so damaged that they are impractical to repair. But the need for new cars is not nearly as great as most people imagine. If we’re going to be making cars at a time when it’s not strictly necessary, we might as well be making very good cars — safe, efficient, reliable, easy to repair, and so on — and that has not exactly been the emphasis of the automobile industry in my lifetime.
Well, perhaps car buyers came to that conclusion. That would explain for the drop-off in new car sales in 2009. There are a lot of cars — seven cars for every six drivers — so it’s easy to imagine that the total size of the U.S. automobile fleet could shrink some more.