Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Auto sales down, car sharing on the rise

What should the auto industry fear? Not high speed rail or more money to mass transit. They should be worried about all the different car sharing programs popping up all over cities across America. Here in the Twin Cities we have a non-profit run Hour Car with its fleet of hybrid cars. Yes, it costs about $8 an hour to use and the insurance and gas is already paid for. It is the perfect deal for someone like myself who rarely needs a car, but does take advantage when I need one.

This NY Times article covers what is taking place:

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.

Now Toyota and other carmakers must wait to see if Americans will return to their old car-buying habits — people like Jay S. Allen, owner of a San Francisco consulting firm, and his wife, Jennifer Nicoloff, a product manager at Gap. Over the years, they have owned eight cars between them.

But now they are carless, with no plans to buy. When he needs transportation, Mr. Allen either rides his scooter or borrows a car for a few hours from a local car-sharing service.

“Too many people are looking at alternatives,” said Scott Griffith, chief executive of Zipcar, the national car-sharing company that has more than 300,000 members, up from about 200,000 a year ago. Mr. Griffith estimates that for every three members, a new car probably goes unsold.

Trading in your car and not getting a new one might just be the new trend in America. It might also just be the trend we have been waiting for to change and get away from our auto centric culture and lifestyle.

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