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US car ownership rate may be at its peak

Car sales down in 2009

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Americans are buying cars at a much lower rate ever since the economic crash, and the overall car ownership rate may never recover, according to Reuters blogger Felix Salmon.

Salmon notes that Americans are now buying just 35 cars per 1,000 people, down from 60 cars ten years ago. However, the per capita car ownership rate has risen from 750 cars per 1,000 people to 780 cars over the same time span. He says that if car sales stay that low for even a year or two, the overall car ownership rate could decline significantly.

Even so, he says, Americans still own far more cars than any other country. Even in Canada, a sprawling country that relies heavily on roads, the car ownership rate is only 563 vehicles per 1,000 people, less than three-quarters the American rate.

Some analysts have predicted that the current rate of car-buying - 9 million vehicles per year - is unsustainable, and that it will rebound to 15 million cars per year. Before the crash, that number was 18 million. However, Salmon thinks car sales will not rebound as much as those analysts expect, saying, “That was a world of 3-car garages in exurban McMansions; we’re moving into a more sustainable way of living, which involves fewer cars and higher urban density.”

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