Americans Love Their Cars, But Are They Willing to Share?

Car industry analysts try to assess the future of the market - will Zipcar and public transit change car ownership forever?
June 4, 2009, 8am PDT | franny.ritchie
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"In recent years Americans appeared to be hooked on it and took advantage of home equity loans, easy credit and cheap short-term lease deals to send new-car sales to levels of more than 17 million a year.

Now the market has collapsed by 46 percent to below 10 million, as people are making do with the cars they have, leaving the industry to debate - and worry - about what the new normal will be once the recession ends."

"People like Kate M. Emminger do not offer the carmakers much hope. Ms. Emminger sold her 2006 Toyota Corolla last April because she decided she could not afford her $250 monthly payment, even though she earns about $60,000 a year as a university events planner.

"It just became too expensive to have a car," Ms. Emminger said. Now, she volunteers at City CarShare, a nonprofit organization in San Francisco, in order to earn free use of its vehicles, which normally rent to members for $5 an hour plus 40 cents a mile. Otherwise, she takes public transit."

"If sales do pick up, carmakers eventually could be more profitable than they have ever been because of all the costs they have shed, said David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.

"After you rebound from this artificial low in demand, wow," Mr. Cole said of the potential for auto sales and profits. "

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Published on Wednesday, June 3, 2009 in The New York Times
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