Few technological breakthroughs have had the social and economic impact of the automobile. It changed America’s geography, spawning suburbs, shopping malls and sprawl as far as the eye could see. It redefined how we work and play, from the daily commute to the weekend trek to the beach. It expanded the heavy industry — steel-making, car production — that made the Midwest the economy’s epicenter for decades. And, finally but not least, the car became the quintessential symbol of American mobility, status and independence.
Now there are signs that the car and its many offshoots (SUVs, pickup trucks) are losing their grip on the American psyche and pocketbook. The car culture may be dying or, at any rate, slumping into a prolonged era of eclipse. The only question is whether the signs of change can be believed. It’s not clear.