Monday, February 24, 2014

Peak of the Week...

Is there a limit to how many cars we can crowd into cities?
The world that Henry Ford put on wheels is poised for a stall.In the globe’s growing megacities, pollution and gridlock are putting a damper on driving. In India, some commuters are leaving their cars at home to avoid traffic snarls and long prowls for parking. More young Americans are forgoing the dream of auto ownership for public transport, bikes and vehicle-sharing. Cars on the road are lasting longer than ever.
All of that may herald a new era for an auto industry weaned on a century of global growth. The world will reach “Peak Car” -- a point at which annual global sales growth will top out -- in the next decade, several auto-industry analysts predict. Researcher IHS Automotive, for one, sees annual sales cresting at 100 million within that time.Peak Car is at odds with the ambitious expansion plans of global automakers, which IHS says are gearing up to produce more than 120 million vehicles by 2016 -- almost 50 percent more than last year’s worldwide sales mark of 82 million. The dynamic also threatens the business plans of parts producers, suppliers of raw material and oil companies.Driving this upheaval is a rapidly emerging reality: The vehicle that ushered in an unparalleled era of personal mobility in the last century is, in many cases, no longer the most convenient conveyance, particularly as more of the world’s population migrates to big cities. [More, with a great infographic]

I find this concern a plausible problem in the medium-term future, but it could be worse in cities I have not first-hand knowledge of like Mumbai. But the inability or reluctance to spend on roads, parking, and other auto infrastructure seems like a transportation "wall" we are hurtling toward. 

Basically, you can only get X cars on Y roads, no matter how wealthy a population is. Something will give: decentralization to shorten commutes; public transport; telecommuting; bicycles, etc.; even denser urban living to allow walking to work; whatever.

This doesn't even take into account China-like smog and the externalities of cars. But it also seems to me to cap one one the most cherished "good" job sources: the auto-industry. Between a ceiling on demand, increased use of robots, and other factors affecting labor needs, this key middle-class life-lifter industry could be less of a contributor to economic mobility in the future.

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