We are, no surprise, driving much less than we did before the pandemic. A recent KPMG study estimates that America’s new work-from-home culture will reduce miles driven this year by 270 billion. The study also forecasts that, even after a COVID-19 vaccine becomes widely available, we’ll continue to drive less for years to come. This will result in changes that are good, not-so-good and, as yet, unknown.   

On the good side, less petroleum will be consumed, with a corresponding decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. Fewer traffic accidents, injuries and fatalities – among people as well as road-crossing critters – will occur. Insurance premiums will decrease; some carriers have already sent out rebate checks. And cars will last even longer – not only as a result of less usage, but also because of ever-improving quality, reliability, and durability. 

On the not-so-good side, for the auto industry, at least, we will be buying fewer new cars and light trucks. Dealerships and independent service facilities will likely have less repair and maintenance work. Tire manufacturers will see their sales decline, although this trend may be mitigated somewhat by the advent of EVs – their higher curb weights tend to hasten tread wear.  

The unknown changes include potential psychological ripple effects. Driving, after all, is an elemental dimension of American life. We are not accustomed to going days (or weeks) without pressing an accelerator pedal. Working from home, having everything from groceries to prescriptions to dinner delivered, and taking fewer road trips for leisure and business all mean that the relationships we have with our cars have been altered.

Automotive marketers are evolving their messaging to reflect the new realities. A current Infiniti advertisement prods us to get out and drive, with the tagline “Day Trips Are Better Than Daydreams.” Mazda’s latest TV spots tout their “Rediscover the Road” sales event.  

For some of us, driving will remain a passion and a tonic. An occasional early-evening spin into the sunset may be the only time behind the wheel these days. We savor every mile, because now we’re driving purely for pleasure, rather than out of necessity. Perhaps driving will revert to being more like it was (around the time of a prior pandemic) a century ago: a joyous diversion, an escape from the worries of the moment, and a celebration of the symbiosis of human and machine.