14 million cars off US roads amid Covid-19 pandemic

Representational image

New Delhi (NVI): Around 14 million cars could disappear from American roads in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as work from home and online shopping have reduced driving in the US, according to new study.

The report conducted by KPMG International estimates that almost 40 per cent of all jobs in the United States could be done from home, drastically reducing reliance on the private motor vehicle.

In 2019, US motorists collectively covered a distance equivalent to 337 round trips from Earth to Pluto – around 4.8 trillion kilometres. But as much of the country, and the rest of the world, went into various forms of lockdown, there was a 64 per cent drop in car usage, the KPMG report said.

This decline refers specifically to something called vehicle miles travelled (VMT), an industry measure of cumulative car journeys. If trend continues, Americans will drive 435 billion fewer kilometres per year. That’s a drop of just over 9 per cent.

The KPMG report referred to the most common reasons or ‘missions’ Americans have for car ownership, about 40 per cent of the country’s motorists, those missions are shopping and commuting.

Meanwhile, the retail sector has been in a state of flux since the advent of ecommerce. With a growing number of shoppers, the convenience offered by online shopping has become increasingly important.

Many retailers and large shopping destinations have closed in recent years, citing ecommerce as the cause for their decline. While for many shoppers, the coronavirus induced lockdown were the impetus to increase their online spend, because physical stores were shut, or to maintain social distancing.

According to KPMG, this effect was that footfall for non-essential retail fell by 80 per cent. Some 60 per cent of Americans said they were doing more shopping online than offline now, up from 44 per cent pre-pandemic.

The other mission KPMG report referred to is commuting. There was a major fall in commuting due to many businesses shutting their offices and sending staff home to work remotely.

Before the lockdown, just 3.4 per cent of US workers were full-time home-workers. That shot up to 62 per cent in early April, while many have now begun to return to work, not all of them will.

In addition to this, some businesses are adopting a steady-as-she-goes approach, continuing work-from-home procedures while evaluating changes to the economy and the spread of the infection.

The total number likely to stay at home is still only an estimate, said KPMG adding that it could be between 13 million and 27 million staff – or 10 per cent to 20 per cent the US workforce.

There were around 273.6 million vehicles registered in the US in 2018. The report said that, that’s an average of 1.97 cars per household, which it anticipates could drop to 1.87 if its forecasts are correct.

However, the cumulative effect of people driving less is that the equivalent of 14 million fewer cars will be needed. But this won’t automatically lead to the disappearance of that many automobiles from US highways.

Instead, there may be a gradual phasing out of second-car households, as the need for more than one vehicle becomes less pressing.