Sooner than later, most of us will be driving microcars.
Petroleum is a finite resource that's going to $200 (U.S.) a barrel by 2012. As we get to the point where traditional transportation fuels must be rationed, it will be reserved first for trucks, first-responder vehicles (police, fire, EMS, bomb and SWAT teams, etc.) taxis, and inter-city commuter trains and airlines (whose fuel cost per passenger miles is vastly lower than a guy driving an SUV).
Then there's the increasingly unbearable traffic congestion even in medium-sized cities, a problem of safety, economic efficiency (you can't run a "just-in-time" economy when the roads are clogged), cars-over-people urban planning, and of course, global heating. (That's right, global heating, not warming - let's call it the threat it is.)
Fortunately, most of the world's two dozen or so major automakers have at least one microcar in their lineup. Only Daimler's Smart line-up has yet made much impact in North America. Then there's the scores of automakers you've never heard of, in China, India and Russia especially, whose bread and butter is microcars. For reasons of upfront and maintenance cost, fuel scarcity, and traffic congestion, microcars already are the norm in many parts of the world.
India's Tata Motors has a microcar priced locally at $2,500 (U.S.) that will soon appear on our shores. India's Mahindra and Mahindra, and China's Geely Holding Group Co. and Chery Automobile Co. won't be far behind with similar models. The prices will be higher in retrofitting the cars to N.A. standards, but will be well below prices for today's N.A. small-car models.
Here's a peek at the North American passenger-auto fleet, circa 2020 or earlier (click on image for larger view):
For the purposes of this blog, the inception of the Great Recession in the U.S., the epicentre of the crisis, is taken as the start date for the global slump. The U.S. has been in recession since December 2007.