You may have heard that we’re reaching a peak car situation. That is to say, automotives are reaching their saturation point, will cease to grow and may even decline. But is such a development really inevitable?
An Old Idea
There are few things more important to contemporary human activity, economics or culture than the car. Whether you find them interesting in of themselves or not, you almost certainly depend on one and often. These chunks of metal are at the heart of our lives and routines day after day, week after week and month after month. So it’s not surprising that there are nearly 39 million registered vehicles in the UK. We also spend more time driving than socialising; these activities eating up 10 and 4.6 hours respectively. But the primacy of the automobile is now being brought into question, namely via the idea of ‘peak car’. This is the view that, for any number of reasons, we’ve reached (or will soon reach) a saturation point in car-ownership and usage.
Peak car has reentered the public psyche as of late, but it isn’t a new idea. In fact, predictions and theories go all the way back to at least the 1960s. Government researchers and advisers suggested that, by around 2010, the process would begun to make itself known. And there is some interesting data that at least makes us wonder…
The peak car idea rests on a number of trends. These are namely declining car sales, fewer people bothering to acquire licenses (especially the young) and the rise of alternative methods of transport; especially in larger cities and urban areas. All of these are taking place. Automakers are facing global difficulties, exacerbated by tariff wars, tough environmental regulations and ever more discerning consumers. The number of teenagers in the UK with licenses has also declined by a whopping 40% in just 20 years. Cities like London have also emphasised public transport and have imposed restrictions on vehicular traffic. All of this has slowed the pace of automotive growth.
Underestimating The Importance Of Cars
The fundamental problem with the peak car hypothesis is that it fails to acknowledge the primacy of the private car in modern socio-economic circumstances. How many people rely upon their cars in order to acquire, maintain and exercise paid work? We’d dare say the vast majority of the workforce. How many people rely upon cars and similar vehicles in order to access vital public services and socialising opportunities? Again, tens of millions of people. Most importantly of all, how many people have presented a model in which cars are largely dispensed with and society finds, in at least transportation terms, a new organising principle? None that we’re aware of.
Moving away from mass car-ownership would quite literally entail a revolution in liberal, market-societies. They’re literally organised around the opportunities car-ownership entails. Peak car enthusiasts often emphasise modern and quirky technologies that’ll eat away at ownership. But this won’t necessarily entail fewer cars. If anything, it’ll just make using them easier. Major automakers are dispensing with show rooms for digital purchasing methods; you can literally buy a car with a few clicks of a smart phone. Some companies are also making it possible to order a car precisely when you need it and only for when you need it. Convenient. But this just means less ownership and fewer vehicles on driveways, not less vehicles on the roads.
The ‘peak’ being discussed is probably a case of economic uncertainty and slow down in growth. The global population continues to grow and those new human beings, hundreds of millions of them, will want and need cars. This won’t change unless the nature of society, work and transportation changes beyond recognition. Why? Cars aren’t just, well, cars. They’re an organising principle upon which are economies are built. Which is probably why the Department of Transport expects traffic to have grown by 25% between 2003 and 2025 alone…
Driverless Cars Could Make Traffic Worse: https://www.autoservefleet.co.uk/latest-news/driverless-cars-could-make-traffoc-worse/
British Car Dependency At All-Time High: https://autoserve.co.uk/motoring-news/british-car-dependency-at-all-time-high/
New Study Reveals The Most Congested Places In The UK: https://www.autoservefleet.co.uk/latest-news/new-study-reveals-the-most-congested-places-in-the-uk/