Prediction of the Automotive Future [UPDATE] [UPDATED]

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The cover of the May 1956 issue of Chilton’s Motor Age touted its “prediction of the automotive future.” What could it have been? I went ahead and bought a copy.

In short, they were both right and wrong.

Based on a variety of factors, including the rise of multiple car ownership, the car replacement market, and the population boom (especially in surburbia), the magazine’s engineering editor suggested, rather optimistically, that by 1975 annual automobile production [note: in the U.S.] would perhaps reach 8,330,000 cars (10 million, including commercial vehicles).

In fact, 6,717,000 automobiles were produced in the U.S. in 1975 (8,987,000, including commercial), according to the American Automobile Manufacturers Association.

More interesting, at least to me, is the fact we didn’t come close to reaching Chilton’s forecasted figure until 1985, when the U.S. produced 8,185,000 cars. Furthermore, this actually represented the peak of passenger automobile production in the U.S. By 1995, the number had dropped back down to 6,350,000.*

Update: I missed the AAMA’s data from 1965, which shows Chilton’s prediction coming true a full decade earlier: 9,335,000 passenger, 1,803,000 commercial vehicles. By 1970, though, the figure had dropped dramatically &mdash i.e. the numbers in 1975 aren’t close to what Chilton forecasted they’d be. For the next 20 years, too, production stayed below Chilton’s prediction, apart from 1985.

What to make of all this: 1) forecasting should always be taken with a grain of salt (duh), and 2) the 1950s were the dawn of nuclear power, plastics, vaccines and antibiotics, and the space program. It must have been difficult not to get swept away by the sentiment that we’d be producing more of everything, and that that everything would only get better, more efficient and cheaper. Truth be told, I do agree with the last part.

*It’s worth noting production of commercial vehicles increased more or less steadily year over year from 1980 to 1995.

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8 Responses to Prediction of the Automotive Future [UPDATE] [UPDATED]

  1. Anonymous says:

    What does this tell us about the technological singularity?

  2. zuzu says:

    Perhaps Chilton’s merely failed to see the rise of Japanese and German imports. Their numbers are more correct, perhaps even understated when you add imported vehicles.

    Indeed. “Produced” implies worldwide production… until you consider that the “American” Automobile Manufacturers Association is the source of the information.

    (Since when are inanimate objects afforded American citizenship? Things don’t have nationalities.)

    The cover of the May 1956 issue of Chilton’s Motor Age

    They also failed to consider oil supply. The oil crisis in 1973 put a damper on things, to say the least.

    OPEC wasn’t even created until 1960.

    (It wasn’t oil supply per se, but a politically-motivated embargo by a cartel of primary oil suppliers.)

    OPEC was founded in Baghdad, triggered by a 1960 law instituted by American President Dwight Eisenhower that forced quotas on Venezuelan and Persian Gulf oil imports in favor of the Canadian and Mexican oil industries. Eisenhower cited national security, land access to energy supplies, at times of war.

  3. hep cat says:

    The biggest factor is that since the mid 1990s almost all cars are good for at least 150,000 miles if you treat them like crap and twice that if you change the oil and do routine maintenance.

    To get EPA certified a random example of a car has to be able to run for 100,000 miles (120,000 as of 2006) without any maintenance or repair.

    http://www.epa.gov/EPA-AIR/2006/January/Day-17/a074.htm

    The fact that cars are vastly better than they used to be is why the auto industry is in such a mess. The world is awash with perfectly good used cars , no one needs to buy a new car , and most people decided at the same time they didn’t really need a new car.

  4. Anonymous says:

    @Steven, they didn’t over-estimate, they underestimated. Look at the figures again: you’ll see that in 1965 9.3 million passenger cars were produced along with 1.8m commercial vehicles for a total of 11.1 million.

  5. Steven Leckart says:

    You’re right. Not sure how I missed that. Post amended.

  6. royaltrux says:

    Perhaps Chilton’s merely failed to see the rise of Japanese and German imports. Their numbers are more correct, perhaps even understated when you add imported vehicles. (No, I do not have the ##s!)

  7. TJ S says:

    So was it just the production numbers they predicted? That seems sort of lame. What’s the point of writing speculatively in the 50′s if you’re not going to throw in hoverboards and rocketmobiles?

  8. Steven Leckart says:

    @TJ S:

    Yeah, I was hoping the inside of the mag would be filled with wild illustrations of flying Buicks. Alas, it was not.

    @Royaltrux: They also failed to consider oil supply. The oil crisis in 1973 put a damper on things, to say the least.

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