A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A sinking Detroit lifts all cities

Gee whiz, it's the Detroit auto show this week! So what's the industry planning for our future? Here's some good news from Nissan executive Tom Lane, an American who runs Product Strategy and Product Planning from his office in Tokyo (source: Fortune magazine):

[Lane] notes that consumers in Japan are losing their mojo when it comes to cars. The population is aging, and younger drivers would rather spend their money on new cellphones and Internet access.

"Japan is increasingly not interested in new cars," he says.

The population in Europe is aging too, and Lane sees similar ennui spreading there. As car ownership becomes more expensive and cities increasingly impose congestion pricing on car usage in center cities, he sees car owners switching to mass transit for their daily commute, and then renting cars for longer trips.

"The U.S. is headed that way," he says. "The challenge for us, going forward, is a more interesting offer. Doing a better Sentra or an Altima isn't going to do it."

So if even auto industry executives are anticipating a future in which people drive less, why are MDOT and the Turnpork Authority planning to spend a quarter billion dollars on freeway expansions in greater Portland?

Christ, even buying stock in General Motors would be a better investment of public money.

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