Will “Peak Car” Be Here by 2020?

09.27.16 | Blog | By:

Late last week Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) released a study on the future of personal vehicle ownership is essentially over. “Peak car” ownership in the U.S. will occur around 2020 and will drop quickly after that. They believe that autonomous electric vehicles with ride-sharing services will begin to dominate after that because it will simply be cheaper for consumers.

The authors state:

Personal vehicles have dominated the U.S. mobility system for nearly 100 years. But we are now in the formative stages of a powerful confluence of cultural, technological, and societal forces. It is possible that a new mobility system will emerge in the next few years that is superior to our existing system in almost every way.

The study also found that:

  • The winners will be those companies able “to excel in providing autonomous vehicles and automated mobility services.” Utilities win as well with the increased demand created by electric vehicles, while gasoline demand would decline precipitously. Here’s what RMI thinks gasoline demand could look like by 2035:


  • Greenhouse gases could be reduced 800 million tons/year by 2035.
  • By 2018, solely using autonomous taxis for transportation could cost the same as owning and operating a car.
  • Electric vehicles make strong economic sense to provide automated mobility service.
  • The total mobility market of the first 26 U.S cities where automated mobility service will likely launch is worth ~$600 billion.
  • Automated mobility services could capture two-thirds of the entire U.S. mobility market in 15–20 years. As the chart below shows, second-generation electric autonomous vehicles and services could reduce automated mobility costs below the operating cost of a personal vehicle (~$0.30/mile).


From my standpoint, it’s all going to depend on widespread consumer trust and education especially in autonomous technology. And as noted last week, 57% of Americans in a recent survey have expressed major concerns in the technology. There are also likely to be city, state and federal regulatory hurdles to surmount as well. That’s unlikely to happen by 2018. But it might well happen shortly thereafter.

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