Car Ownership Statistics

people in car
Minivans are popular among car owners.

Wondering how car ownership statistics have changed over the years? The rise of automobile ownership has had a significant effect on the culture of the United States, and ownership statistics can offer interesting insight into the present and future track of the automotive industry.

History of Car Ownership

When the car was invented, most people saw it as a novelty and a luxury item. The "horseless carriage" was something to turn heads and impress neighbors, but few people expected it to replace the horse and wagon as a means of everyday transport.

Early automobiles were comparatively expensive, since they were assembled by hand. At the Ford Motor Company, for instance, two or three auto workers would devote days to producing a single automobile. Even by employing many workers, a plant could only produce a few vehicles a day. Since it took so many man-hours to create a single car, companies had to charge high prices.

It was the invention of the assembly line that made car ownership a realistic goal for most Americans. By 1920, auto companies had put the assembly line to use, and Ford Motor Company alone was producing one million cars per year. This translated to a dramatic drop in the price of automobiles, making it possible for middle class families to afford a car.

Car Cost as a Percentage of Income

The affordability of cars has changed over the years, and this can have a significant effect on vehicle ownership. In the early years of the auto industry, cars were rarely financed as they are today. This meant that families needed to save up to buy an automobile. Later, as other countries began to compete for U.S. car consumers' business, the cost of a car dropped in comparison to household income.

The following Chevrolet car statistics help illustrate the change in the cost of a car and its effect on vehicle ownership:

  • In 1924, a Chevrolet Superior Roadster cost $490, or about 33% of the average household income.
  • In 1935, a Chevrolet Master Deluxe cost $560, or about 37% of the average household income.
  • In 1940, a Chevrolet Clipper cost $659, or about 38% of the average household income.
  • In 1958, a Chevrolet Impala cost $2,693, or about 45% of the average household income.
  • In 1965, a Chevrolet Malibu cost $2,156, or about 7% of the median household income.
  • In 1976, a Chevrolet Malibu cost $3,671, or about 10% of the median household income.

Car Ownership Statistics in the U.S.

The U.S. Government officially began keeping car ownership records in 1960, and this information is now collected and stored by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

  • In 1960, Americans owned 61,671,390 passenger cars, or about one car for every three people.
  • In 1970, Americans owned 89,243,557 passenger cars, or almost one car for every two people.
  • In 1980, Americans owned 121,600,843 passenger cars, or a little more than one car for every two people.
  • In 1990, Americans owned 133,700,496 passenger cars, or a little more than one car for every two people.
  • In 2000, Americans owned 133,621,420 passenger cars, or a little less than one car for every two people.
  • In 2008, Americans owned 137,079,843 passenger cars, or a little less than one car for every two people.

Worldwide Car Ownership

Worldwide, car ownership has been increasing. As developing countries attain greater economic stability, their residents are more likely to purchase vehicles. Today, consumers in China, India, and other Asian markets play a significant role in worldwide automotive consumption.

More Information

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Car Ownership Statistics