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Two Billion Cars: Coming Soon to Our Planet.

Two Billion Cars: Coming Soon to Our Planet.

Over the break I’ve been reading Daniel Sperling’s book Two Billion Cars, an exploration of how the planet can handle the two billion vehicles that will be in service by 2025.

Is this number inevitable? Sperling says yes: There are over a Billion vehicles today, and 2.4 Billion emerging consumers in China and Indian interested in ‘personal motorization’. He also points out that most automakers are focusing their efforts on building and conquering these new markets. His projections actually show roughly 1.2 Billion cars, another 500 Million trucks/buses, and 500 Million motorcycles and scooters, but the forecasted growth in each segment is still staggering and a little scary.

We clearly live in what Sperling and his co-author call a “gas-guzzler monoculture”. Only 2% of passenger travel in the U.S. is via public transportation, and even in Europe where fuel is expensive and trains plentiful, 80% of travel is via automobile. He calls this car-centric western lifestyle “an extravagant consumer of resources and producer of greenhouse gasses.”

On the Daily Show earlier this year, Sperling stated that one of the problems is that “There is no value placed on carbon production.” I totally agree, and whether we end up with cap-and-trade, a carbon tax, low carbon fuel standards, or voluntary offsetting, factoring the environmental cost of burning gasoline into the cost of ownership is needed to start to change consumer behavior. So is an honest assessment and forecast of how much oil is left and what it will cost.  Sperling is pretty optimistic about oil reserves, but does see the price of oil driving supply, and therfore an end to cheap oil. 

Unfortunately, he also sees a lot of this higher cost and regulatory action focused primairly on driving automobile and fuel innovation…hybrids, biofuels, lighter cars, and more. Clearly these are needed: the book compares a 1976 Honda accord (2000 pounds, 46 MPG) with a 2008 model (3600 pounds, 29 MPG)  to demonstrate the stagnation in innovation related to the resource intensity of automobiles. But two Billion vehicles? Isn’t there a better way for us to plan communities and get around?

Sperling presents some interesting and promising alternatives including ‘smart paratransit’ (point to point public transport like airport Super Shuttles),  carsharing (think Zipcar), small powered vehicles (Smart Cars and Segways), and ridesharing (Pickup Pal). He also discusses the idea of redesigning roads to be more bus (and bike!) friendly. All of these seem to be gaining traction, but none are growing as fast of personal vehicle ownership.

Part of this is financial, I suppose….we pay endlessly for roads and (hidden) oil subsidies, while underfunding light rail and other alternatives — expecting them to pull their own financial weight in a way in which automobile travel does not. Part of it is also the desire for the ‘freedom of the open road’, an aspiration which will become more elusive as cars and traffic multiply. Maybe its time take some focus away from automobiles and highways, and to re-imagine and fund infrastructure that creates a different future.

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Photo copyright: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bike/ / CC BY-SA 2.0

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177 comments

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7:24PM PDT on May 25, 2013

Thank you for info.

7:23PM PDT on May 25, 2013

Thank you for info.

7:23PM PDT on May 25, 2013

Thank you for info.

7:22PM PDT on May 25, 2013

Thank you for info.

11:21PM PDT on Jun 16, 2010

This good at one side but bad at the other side because when the number of vehicles will increase then the pollution and fuel consumption will also increase which will harm to us only after wards and going to raise the global warming effects.
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3:05AM PST on Jan 29, 2010

I don't even have a driver's licence, I won't pollute everybody's oxigen, the thing is don't smoke cigarettes, all right, but cars, what hipocresy is this!? you drive your car but don't let anybody smoke around you, how opportunist...

7:50PM PST on Jan 16, 2010

i try to skateboard and bike as many places as i can

10:03AM PST on Jan 15, 2010

This is why we need more and better public transit.

2:06AM PST on Jan 15, 2010

Currently we have one car, a fuel efficient small Scion. My husband works nights and the LightRail doesn't run that late- and doesn't get within 5 miles of his office anyway, but during his upcoming search for the next job (his job having been outsourced to the Phillippines- thanks VISA CREDIT CARD COMPANY) will definitely take LightRail accessibility into serious consideration. If at some point in the future we decide to buy a second car, we've already decided it will be a SmartCar.

6:13PM PST on Jan 14, 2010

this was a good article, thanks! i am optimistic about the future in this regard. we recently bought a prius and though it's mileage is not quite what was advertised, it is still much better than what i was driving. i was also happy to be encouraging that market with my dollars. some of my more purist friends were saying that you should then have your old, less efficient car destroyed to get it off the road, but we wound up giving it to my brother-in-law. it seems wasteful to just discard it when it could still be driven, and even after 13 years it was still getting much better mileage than his old car (mitsubishi eclipse replaced ford explorer).

i am still hoping to see some results from cash for clunkers. i think that program could be very effective at pressing automakers to redesign models for efficiency. it was kind of a windfall for hybrid makers this year, but if all the automakers could count on that kind of excitement over hybrids, it might drive some truly revolutionary designs!

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Sent to those who are interested and need to see an article like this, Thanks for posting.

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