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The University of Michigan conducted a study on trends in light-weight vehicles (including cars, pickup trucks, SUV’s, and vans) from 1984 to 2011. Most interestingly, the study uncovered a sharp decline after 2008 in the absolute number of vehicles and this begged the question – had our cycling and pedestrian efforts started to make a measurable impact? Certainly, people wanted to save money on gas while budgets were tight.

Unfortunately, the study concluded that this peak was likely due to the economic downturn that began in 2008, and it is possible that the number of vehicles just has not yet peaked. However, “the rates of vehicles per person, per licensed driver, and per household reached their maxima prior to the onset of the current economic downturn.” As such, perhaps this did somewhat reflect societal changes that influence the need for vehicles, like increases in telecommuting and the use of public transportation.

It could be appropriate to mention that at this time, people were beginning to catch on to the idea of global climate change – after all, Al Gore’s (in)famous “An Inconvenient Truth” was aired in 2006 and the idea of reducing emissions was starting to shimmy its way into the news more and more often. Especially as the fear factor of weather disasters were gaining more media coverage.

Some interesting numbers from the study: the number of light-duty vehicles in 1984 was 156.8 million. In 2008, there were 236.4 million. And in 2011, the number was 233.8 million. This study is packed with interesting statistics, including the number of light-duty vehicles per person, per licensed driver, and per household by year from 1984-2011.

It concludes, “Given the U.S. economic conditions are improving and that the U.S. population is expected to grow, it is highly likely that the number of vehicles reached in 2008 will be surpassed in the near future.” We can only hope as we grow as a nation and pass the keys to the next generation, the number of vehicles on the road includes a great number of hybrids, electric vehicles, and Google Smart Cars.


Earthgarage – Greener Car. Fatter Wallet.