Why is car ownership plunging in Europe's cities?

The percentage of people who own cars in London, Paris, and Munich has dropped noticeably over the past decade. The culprit? Smartphones. 

Lefteris Pitarakis/Reuters/File
A view of the central London skyline with the St Paul's Cathedral from the south bank of the River Thames. Since 2005, the number of vehicles per 1,000 people has dropped 8 percent, in part due to the increased connectivity offered by smartphones

Would you replace your car with a smartphone?

With the increased connectivity offered by smartphones, it may be that more people will find car ownership unnecessary where alternative forms of transportation are available.

Has last century's romantic attachment to cars been eroded by a culture fixated on texting and web surfing?

That's what appears to be happening in Europe where, Bloomberg reports, car ownership rates in major cities are plummeting.

Since 2005, the number of vehicles per 1,000 people in Paris has fallen 9 percent, alongside an 8 percent drop in London, according to research firm Euromonitor International.

In BMW's hometown of Munich, the number of vehicles per 1,000 people fell by 16 percent in the same period.

Diesel taxis in London (Image by Flickr user Lars Ploughmann, used under CC license)

Automakers plan to combat this lack of interest by making cars more like smartphones.

Jaguar Land Rover will launch a "Smart Assistant" feature that automatically adjusts vehicle settings to suit a driver's preference.

Several other carmakers have signed on for Apple's CarPlay and Google's Android Auto, which will link smartphones to on-board infotainment systems.

However, it's worth noting that Europeans can also give up cars because they have alternatives.

Most European cities have well-developed mass transit systems and car-sharing services, lessening the need for car ownership.

On the other hand, urban car owners still have to deal with traffic and a scarcity of parking spaces, which can wear on even the most enthusiastic driver.

The situation is different in the U.S., where the suburban infrastructure that's been built up since World War II heavily favors cars over public transit, or walking.

So whether U.S. drivers would like to abandon their cars or not, they'll likely be stuck with them for the foreseeable future.

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