China may buy more cars, but U.S. drivers will continue to rack up the most miles, according to a futurist.
At the SAE World Congress in Detroit, Peter Phelps said the U.S. will remain the top "road-warrior nation," with more annual miles driven than any other, according to WardsAuto.
Phelps said an entrenched car culture ensures U.S. drivers will continue to use their cars more than anyone else, even if they are buying less.
From 2005 to 2013, light-vehicle sales in China all but tripled, while U.S. sales actually fell by 8.3 percent.
Last year, China became the first country to surpass 20 million new car sales; it is currently the world's largest new-car market, and expected to remain so for many years to come. Around 20.7 million new cars were sold there in 2013, against 15.5 million in the U.S.
The U.S. auto population is currently stable at roughly 250 million vehicles, while China reached roughly that number sometime during 2013.
Yet Chinese drivers are expected to use all of these brand-new vehicles less, on average, than their U.S. counterparts.
This is due, at least in part, to a growing backlash against the rampant pollution and congestion caused by cars.
In addition to national policies such as emissions standards and electric-car incentives, certain cities are trying to limit the number of vehicles on their streets.
Beijing plans to slash car-sales quotas by 40 percent, and scrap 180,000 of its worst-polluting vehicles.
Policies like those can only succeed when consumers have alternative forms of transportation, however.
China's denser cities and more robust mass-transit infrastructure make it easier for people to move around in a variety of ways than the dispersed suburbs the U.S. has been building for the past 70 years.
So while U.S. per-capita Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) peaked in 2004--and have steadily declined since then--miles start lower in China, and will likely stay low in comparison to the U.S. as North American drivers continue to log more total miles each year.
And despite a persistent narrative that Millennials are uninterested in cars, they will likely still need them sooner or later to navigate the existing suburban infrastructure.