Young people driving less
It's important to note that the declining VMT appears more pronounced among young people -- including both the so-called Millennial Generation (those born between 1983 and 2000) and Generation X (those born between 1965 and 1982).
In a US PIRG report, "A New Direction: Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America's Future," researchers wrote: "According to the National Household Travel Survey, from 2001 and 2009, the annual number of vehicle-miles traveled by 16 to 34 year-olds decreased from 10,300 miles to 7,900 miles per capita -- a drop of 23 percent."
Similarly, the downward trend on VMT is obvious among those living in urban areas.
Another US PIRG report that looked into driving habits among residents of American cities noted: "According to the Federal Highway Administration between 2006 and 2011, the average number of vehicle-miles traveled per capita in all urban areas decreased from 8,600 to 8,450 miles."
This decline might seem miniscule, but it's significant compared to the decades of steady increase from 1980 to 2000, during which time, "vehicle-miles traveled per capita in all urban areas grew by 48 percent," wrote the authors of the report.
A big piece of the puzzle is that young Americans are not only driving less, but the percentage of young people with a driver's license has been dropping for years.
Citing licensing statics from the US Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, and population statistics by the US Census Bureau, the US PIRG report noted: "In 2011, the percentage of 16 to 24 year-olds with driver's licenses dipped to 67 percent -- the lowest percentage since at least 1963."
For carmakers, I suspect there is nothing more terrifying than the declining vehicle ownership figures.
After decades of increase, the number of vehicles per licensed driver has declined by 4 percent since 2006, according to
"Our Nation's Highways -- 2000, Selected Facts and Figures," put together by the Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration.
And, of course, declining vehicle ownership is more evident in urban areas.
The PIRG's "Transportation in Transformation" report noted: "The proportion of households without cars has increased in 84 out of the 100 largest urbanized areas from 2006 to 2011. In those 100 urbanized areas, the proportion of households without cars increased from 11.4 percent to 12.2 percent."
It's important to note that the proportion of households without vehicles has increased across the country from 2006 to 2011.
The Proportion of Households Without Vehicles Has Increased across the
Country (2006 to 2011)
Meanwhile, the households with multiple cars are also declining. The same report points out:
The proportion of households with two cars or more decreased in 86 out of the 100 largest urbanized areas from 2006 to 2011, with an average decrease of 1.7 percent. The greatest decreases were in Cape Coral (FL), New Orleans (LA), and Fresno (CA), which all saw at least 6 percent of households go from possessing two or more vehicles to one or zero.
What do we do now?
Whether we like it or not, this is a mega-trend that will reshape the automotive industry in the coming years. Leading carmakers' executives are keenly aware of this.
Carmakers are already bending backwards to please the younger-generation drivers, by making sure that they will find in their vehicles the same comfort of Internet connectivity they already have outside their cars. Carmakers are also aware that car "infotainment" can be an important element that could make or break a buying decision by the younger generation.
But such tweaks certainly aren't enough to buck the mega-trend of declining ownership of vehicles and driver licenses.
As far-fetched as it seems now, companies like Toyota are talking up a vision of creating cities. A case in point is Toyota's harmonious mobility network, called "Ha:mo." The Ha:mo RIDE project, essentially a car-sharing system, is using ultra-compact electric vehicles that provide transportation to and within the city center, connecting pedestrians, bicycles, and public transportation.
Click here to watch the concept video on Ha:mo.
— Junko Yoshida, Chief International Correspondent, EE Times