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Auto Ownership May Have Passed Peak

U-M report shows ownership on the decline.

by on Jan.24, 2018

The number of people buying and owning vehicles is on the decline, according to a new U-M report.

Ownership of cars and light trucks has been on the upswing, according to a new report from a University of Michigan researcher. The report is the 10th in a series examining changes in various aspects of motorization in the U.S., reaching back to 1984.

The report, “Has motorization in the U.S. peaked? Part 10: Vehicle ownership and distance driven, 1984 to 2016,” indicates the American love affair with the automobile has cooled slightly as the rates of vehicle ownership per person and per household as well as miles driven have yet to reach their pre-recession peaks despite a relatively healthy economy.

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Michael Sivak of the U-M Transportation Research Institute found that light vehicle-ownership rates per person and per household are at their highest levels since 2008 and 2009, respectively.

The ownership rate per person for 2016 the year with the latest available data is .766, while the rate per household is 1.968. Per person rates have increased four straight years and household rates have gone up three years in a row.

(Government panel wants lower drunk driving threshold. Click Here for the story.)

However, both rates are below their peak in 2006—down 2.5% per person and 4% per household. The rate per person for 2016 is at about the same level of 2003, while the rate per household is at the same level as it was almost 25 years ago in 1994.

Several factors may have contributed to the trend uncovered in the UMTRI study, among them the rising cost of vehicle owners, the rising cost of new vehicles and the decline of labor force participation and an aging population.

With new vehicle sales declining in 2017 even as the U.S. population grows, it is unlikely the ownership rate will increase. Carmakers also are now expected to sell between 100,000 and 400,000 fewer units in 2018 as demand for new vehicles continues to slow.

(Click Here for more about automaker concerns for 2018 sales after a slow December.)

Sivak also examined annual distances driven per person and per household, both of which peaked in 2004. While the two rates for 2016 are down 5.3% and 7%, respectively, from their maximum levels, they have risen for three consecutive years.

The distance-driven rate per person for 2016, 8,819 miles, is about the same as it was in 1999, while the rate per household, 22,649 miles, is about the same as it was in 1995. The rate per person for 2016 is at about the same level as the rate for 1999.

(New vehicle sales sputtered in December. To see why, Click Here.)

The rates of miles driven per person and per household also both reached their peaks in 2004, but decreased from 2004 to 2013, according to the UMTRI study.

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