Europeans Have More Cars Than Americans - Say What?

The love affair between Americans and their cars is a well known trope. But according to a new paper from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on worldwide car usage, America's car ownership rate is among the lowest in the developed world.

Max Fisher discusses the data reported in a newly published Carnegie Endowment paper, which upends traditional ideas about car usage. It turns out that car ownership rates are higher in nearly every Western European country than in the United States. "The U.S. is ranked 25th in world by number of passenger cars per person, just above Ireland and just below Bahrain," observes Fisher. "There are 439 cars here for every thousand Americans, meaning a little more than two people for every car."   

So what explains this state of affairs? "The Carnegie paper explains that car ownership rates are closely tied to the size of the middle class," explains Fisher. "In fact, the paper [titled "In Search of the Global Middle Class: A New Index"] actually measures car ownership rates for the specific purpose of using that number to predict middle class size."

So does the data indicate that the US has a disproportionately small middle class? Fisher isn't convinced: "Still, it's also possible that the answer has less to do with Americans adhering to Carnegie's thesis about car ownership predicting middle class size and more to do with other, particularly American factors. Young Americans are spending less of their money on cars, as Jordan Weissmann explained, as they get driver's licences at lower rates and spend more of their money on, say, high-tech smart phones."

 

Full Story: It's Official: Western Europeans Have More Cars Per Person Than Americans

Comments

Comments

Irvin Dawid's picture
Correspondent

Ownership vs. VMT per capita?

25th? Wow!
I did not see a comparison of miles driven per capita, though - that would be very interesting. I suspect that the U.S. ranks much higher in that category - which would show that tracking mileage rather than numbers of vehicles owned is far more important in determining auto-orientation.
Irvin Dawid, Palo Alto, CA

Parking Space

VMT would be very useful for understanding GHG emissions. It would be somewhat helpful for understanding auto orientation, but remember that lower auto ownership does mean less land is consumed for storing cars.

Irvin Dawid's picture
Correspondent

Ownership vs. VMT per capita?

25th? Wow!
I did not see a comparison of miles driven per capita, though - that would be very interesting. I suspect that the U.S. ranks much higher in that category - which would show that tracking mileage rather than numbers of vehicles owned is far more important in determining auto-orientation.
Irvin Dawid, Palo Alto, CA

Its just not true.

Read the article, 5 minutes of research on Google. The writer's numbers are only possible if you discount all "light trucks" registered, which includes minivans, SUVs, and pickups. Those vehicles make up the majority of passenger car sales in the US.

We're still comfortably more car dependent. We just choose bigger cars.

"Car Ownership" Rates Forgot Personal Pickups and SUVs!

The "study" is so far off in its analysis and conclusions that it is quite laughable.

The authors obviously are NOT familiar with U.S. conditions. The number of "automobiles" may be a relatively lower percentage, but when ALL personal vehicles are counted including light pickups and sport-utility vehicles used for personal travel, the U.S. has about the highest personal vehicle ownership rate on the planet.

I wonder if the authors have EVER visited the U.S. outside of Manhattan? If they have, how could they have missed the 100 million+ personal pickup trucks and SUVs that exist here in addition to standard passenger cars?

Sheesh!

I don't think msetty's comment is accurate

Maybe this clarification wasn't posted earlier, but the article now has an endnote, saying in part:
"this data includes all "passenger vehicles," which means cars, pickup trucks, SUVs, and minibuses"

Auto Ownership in the U.S.

My statement in my previous post is totally accurate, and the postscript in The Atlantic article is totally wrong; the original researchers got it completely wrong, probably due to a lack of familiarity with the U.S. beyond Manhattan.

Don't believe me? I suggest looking at the Federal Highway Administration's website. There are roughly 242 million total registered vehicles (and an unknown number of unregistered vehicles such as on farms) in the U.S. as of 2010, including 108 million+/- "personal and commercial" trucks not owned by various levels of government. All but a handful of these are personal pickups, other light trucks and SUVs. Look at this source yourself: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/statistics/2010/mv1.cfm.

The endnote is incorrect.

Msetty is right. This article is an disgrace to the Atlantic and I am bewildered as to why they are leaving it up on their website and why Planetizen is bothering to link to it.

Pickups and SUVs.

We should remember that what msetty points out is often used to mendacicize about other things in the fleet: MPG, accidents, etc.

Some forget that light trucks and gas-guzzling SUVs are a separate category and need to remember this every time we see analyses such as these. Others exploit this to misinform. The Atlantic and Atlantic Cities get things wrong because they don't spend enough time on the issue and instead choose to flood the zone with pro-city stories.

Best,

D

Gas Guzzling

My "gas guzzling SUV" Suburban got 24 mpg highway before the cash for clunkers program but my newer Jeep that meets the requirements of the program only gets 17 mpg hwy. Don't be fooled by the phoney rhetoric of politicians.

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