The end of the large cars era in the United States

One of my favorite US environmental blog – The Daily Green – published today an interesting article with a lot of data on how Americans drive less and shift to smaller cars.

With as much as 800,000 less barrels per day consumed in the first half of the year and decreasing miles driven for eight months in the row, the phenomenon is important.

US car makers are adjusting their production and stop manufacturing large cars to make smaller efficient ones. All this is very good news.

Here is the full article :

The evidence keeps piling up that the SUV era is over. Here are the latest indicators:

Americans Keep Driving Less
Even as gas prices have begun to moderate at an average of $3.80 per gallon in the first weeks of August, the Transportation Department released new data showing that American drivers cut back driving 5% in June, the eighth straight month of decline. The year-over-year decline was a whopping 12.2 billion fewer miles traveled. Since November, Americans have driven 53 billion fewer miles than during the same period a year earlier.

America Is Buying Less Oil
Largely as a result of decreased miles driven, demand for oil in the U.S. shrunk by 800,000 barrels a day in the first half of 2008, according to a Department of Energy report out Tuesday. That’s the biggest decline in a generation; demand had been rising since 1982.

Chrysler Stops Making Cherokees
With its sales down 23%, Chrysler will stop making an early icon of the SUV era, the Grand Cherokee, at a Detroit plant. Instead, it will retool the plant to produce smaller, fuel-efficient cars. It’s only the latest announcement of its kind. Another from this week:

Ford Swaps the Fiesta for the F-Series
Ford will stop making its once-popular F-Series of pickup trucks at a Mexican plant, and instead build a European-style hatchback, the Fiesta, along with fuel-efficient two-door sedans. Similar changes are under way at two other Ford factories, as the company responds to an $8.7 billion second-quarter loss. It expects double-digit growth as it shifts its production from 20% small cars … to 90%.

People Can’t Wait to Buy Electric
More than 33,000 people have signed on to an unofficial waiting list to buy the Chevy Volt, General Motors’ highly touted foray into the world of electric cars.

Used Cars Sales Are Lucrative Drive by any used car dealership, and the advertising is all about fuel-efficiency. Owners of even unassuming but fuel-efficient models, like the Chevy Prizm, are hounded with direct mail offers from used car lots, offering good trade-in deals. Consumer Reports offers this helpful list of the fuel-efficient used cars.

Numbers Don’t Lie
In the first six months of 2008, sales of new small cars were up 11%, while sales of SUVs were down 14% and pickup trucks were down 23%.Check out these interesting fuel-efficient concept cars that may one day hope to resurrect a better SUV.

3 thoughts on “The end of the large cars era in the United States”

  1. Three things.

    Firstly, historically when the US has had recessions, they’ve dropped about 5% in oil consumption for each year of the recession. If not quitting the SUVs, it’s driving less or turning the heating down or whatever. But this consumption quickly jumps up again after the recession.

    So the question is whether you consider the US to be in recession now. I say, “obviously, yes!” and lots of US commentators say “well um maybe not I suppose perhaps if you look at the figures in this way…” And then this gives rise to the obvious question, will they ever recover from recession? That’s harder to say.

    Secondly, balanced against US consumption drops is other countries’ rises. SUV sales are booming in China and India. What matters to the world in greenhouse gas and resource depletion terms is world consumption, whether it’s in country A or country B doesn’t matter.

    Lastly, this overall consumption is pushed by personal vehicle use. In the end, what we’re talking about is that whenever you travel you take a tonne of steel with you. Whether it’s 2 tonnes or 1 tonne, whatever we choose to power it with, it’s never going to be very efficient.

    A car weighs 1t and typically carries 1.5 people = 1.5pers/t
    Bus 10t and 25 people = 2.5per/t
    Train 20t and 120 people = 6pers/t
    A bicycle 0.015t and 1 person = 66pers/t
    Shoes 0.001t and 1 person = 1,000pers/t

    Obviously you have to weigh that efficiency up against travel time, since I can plausibly train even 100km/day, but probably not cycle that if I want to do anything else. But still…

    The point is that variations in distance drive per personal vehicle, or the type of personal vehicle preferred will never make anywhere near as much difference as simply getting people out of their personal vehicles, onto their feet, cycles or trains.

  2. Oh, and to be clear: what I meant by mentioning the recession was that even if people’s driving habits don’t change at all, a recession drops fossil fuel consumption because people buy less stuff, less stuff is made, so there are less factories going, less trucks driving stuff around, and so on.

    But recessions don’t last forever. And we want the drop in fossil fuel use to be permanent, and also to not be associated with a plunge into poverty. I mean, the USSR and successor states halved their fossil fuel use in the 1990s, the North Koreans dropped it by much more than half, but I don’t think anyone would like to try their methods out.

    We need changes which lead to a better or equivalent quality of life, and lasting changes, too. Otherwise we’re merely delaying the inevitable slightly.

  3. Thanks Kiashu for your comments and your remarks. This is as usual most interesting.

    We will see but I think that this recession is different from the others as oil prices are sooo high. They may have dropped a bit but I am not so sure they will ever go down $100 ever again.

    On how China consumes more energy with its SUV, my dad sent me an article on how the local governement is putting higher tax on this kind of vehicles. I will write about it very soon…

    So enjoy your weekend and stay tuned ! 😛

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