Tuesday, May 20, 2008


My world isn't exactly typical, and so my anecdotal knowledge of such things isn't necessarily reliable, but I do get the sense that the degree to which cars are key conspicuous consumption status symbols has started to decline somewhat. It seemed like for awhile the "get a new car every 3 years" plan was pretty common for people, and the more expensive the better. Obviously the degree to which something is an important status symbol isn't the only determinant of sales, but it's part of it.

Through most of the 1990s, auto makers sold a little over 15 million cars and light trucks a year in the U.S. market. That changed in the late 1990s: With gasoline prices low and many U.S. consumers feeling flush from the tech-stock boom, auto sales surged. Sales peaked at 17.4 million in 2000 and remained near 17 million for another five years. Heads of General Motors Corp. and Toyota said the U.S. was entering a golden age of the automobile. In 2003, Toyota's head of North American sales predicted the industry would soon be selling 20 million vehicles a year.

They were wrong. Sales started falling in 2006 and this year are expected to be right back where they were in the 1990s, at just over 15 million. Last week, market researcher Global Insight Inc. lowered its 2008 forecast for U.S. vehicle sales to below 15 million. Global Insight now believes sales won't reach previous highs again until 2012, a year later than it had previously thought.