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Oregon’s auto industry is booming: Is that a good thing?

Posted by on January 23rd, 2018 at 12:59 pm

Good news?

How can Oregon make progress in its fight against car abuse when cars represent one of the largest sectors of our state’s economy?

It feels good for Oregon bicycle advocates to talk about “bikenomics,” but the truth hurts: our state’s auto industry is a behemoth that casts a very long shadow. According to an article published Sunday in the Portland Tribune, there was $10.6 billion in new vehicle sales in 2016 (the latest year figures are available). That amounts to a whopping 17.9 percent of all retail sales statewide.

As the Trib story says, auto dealers are celebrating a “banner year” as they ready for their biggest moment — the annual Portland Auto Show held at the Oregon Convention Center this weekend.

Here’s more from the Trib piece:

“… the sales figures only hint on the impact that new car dealers have in the state. For starters, there were 218 of them in state in 2016, more than enough for at least one in every city of any size. Each employed an average of 60 people. The total payroll was $716 billion million, with $305 million paid in state and federal income taxes.

“Just about the only equivalent employer is the state are school districts,” says Remensperger [executive vice president of the Metro Portland New Car Dealers Association]…

But the dealerships supported even more indirect and induced jobs in their community, bringing the total number they created in 2016 to 27,045 — a sizeable percent of the state’s total workforce by any measure.

“This economic engine provides jobs and incomes that in turn create vibrant livable communities around the state. We are proud that our industry helps bring families together, creates lasting memories and serves the communities where we live,” says Chris Meier, a partner at the Herzog-Meier Auto Center, president of the Metro Portland New Car Dealers Association and vice-president of the Oregon Auto Dealers Association.”

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Mural of Oregon inside OMSI shows everything our state loves — and there are no cars in sight.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

These should be sobering statistics for people who want to see Oregon prioritize transit and bicycling over single-occupancy auto use.

Here are some of the questions I’m thinking about after seeing that article:

➤ When most lawmakers and community leaders see cars as a vital piece to our economic puzzle, how can we create a political environment where car use is seen not as a benign behavior, but for what it also is: an extremely costly (to its users, government, and the public), environmentally harmful, public safety threat that should be done sparingly and only when other options are not available?

➤ Is it possible to achieve our transportation and environmental goals and maintain a healthy and robust auto industry?

➤ Could a comparable economic boost be provided by a state that dramatically improves its public transit and bicycling networks?

Whether overt or behind-the-scenes, there’s no denying the power of the auto industry in Oregon. As our department of transportation begins a conversation about congestion pricing, I hope we can separate what’s good for long-term policy from what’s good for short-term pocketbooks.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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Smarty Pants9wattsTed GreshMike SandersLazy Spinner Recent comment authors
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Dave
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Dave

If the cars of cell phoning drivers ended up in crushers, they’d have to replace them more often!

Chris I
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Chris I

Another way to view auto dealers: giant vacuums, sucking wealth away from our residents, and funneling it to car manufacturers and their workers in other states and countries.

Mike Quigley
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Mike Quigley

Well, look at it this way. Dumb cars are being replaced with smart cars that can detect a pedestrian or bike or other car in the way while the driver is distracted.

rick
Guest
rick

I’ve kept telling Beaverton, Tigard, and Washington county governments to put a moratorium on the new construction of car dealers. None will listen or recognize the hazard. The car dealer highways are death routes.

rick
Guest
rick

Washington state at least has a $5 fee for each tire that gets metal-studs installed. It went into effect in late 2016.

Smarty Pants
Guest
Smarty Pants

This is an awesome thing because it means in 10 years there will be a large pool of used, fairly cheap cars available – particularly the kind that YOU drive and not a computer – and many of the available cars will have collision avoidance warnings, etc. I don’t want a hackable computer piloting my car, possibly killing me:
https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/23/tesla-on-autopilot-crashes-into-fire-truck-on-california-freeway.html

Rain Waters
Guest
Rain Waters

Driving thru Medford on I-5 overpass you see one corporate logo on one glass and steel corporate homestead. That would be the word,
LITHIA.

BradWagon
Subscriber

It could be… but like everything that could use it’s power for good but doesn’t, it isn’t.

Gerik
Guest

I’ll say that this reality commands the State of Oregon’s transportation-political environment. It is part of the reason why we focus on building support and funding for new sidewalks, bike lanes, and crosswalks with Safe Routes to School. At The Street Trust we’ve proven it is a way to win tangible victories while some portion of AAA’s approx. 750,000 local dues-paying members push for wider roads.

As I understand the genesis of The Netherlands’ evolution towards being a world leader on bicycle infrastructure and culture they had a grassroots uprising against “kindermorten” or child death on the streets. It seems to me that we should push, hard, to reorient our communities to prioritize safe streets adjacent to our schools. This is something everyone, whether they’ve heard of this blog or not, should be able to get behind.

B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

I seriously doubt if a sector with $10.6 billion in sales has $716 billion in payroll. The arithmetic of the dealer numbers and the average number of employees tells me that the payroll total was $716 million (about $55k per employee).

So, Oregonians are leaking nearly $10 billion to out of state car manufacturers, some 93% of the total spent. Add in the even worse situation with gasoline and we’re being played for fools big time.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

Last time I checked, Lithia Motors was one of the top 3 or 5 employers in Oregon.

Not to split hairs, but auto sales and maintenance is actually a different thing than the auto industry, as in very little if any actual manufacturing is occurring in Oregon.

But everything related to trucks and automobiles probably still accounts for something like one in six jobs in the US, and even that may not count the regulators and remediation workers that clean up leaking gas stations or the health care workers that care for the crash victims and asthma sufferers.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

This Portland Tribune article is trash, not even accurately reporting the auto-industry advocate’s press release (and littered with car ads.) The car salesman’s take is just wrong and misleading. An industry that takes 18% of retail sales and employs only 1% of the workforce is a drain on the economy. Even counting their the “induced jobs”, they still don’t crack the top ten.

http://bluebook.state.or.us/facts/economy/employment.htm
https://www.nada.org/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=21474837355

(Granted, getting people out of their cars would reduce obesity and maybe cut into healthcare employment.)

I’m disappointed in this reporting. This story should have been a takedown of the Tribune’s cars-first bias and even examining the motivations behind it.

9watts
Guest
9watts

No one has addressed the question of why people are so primed to gobble up new cars.

I think Carl Gustav Jung might be able to help us here.
Deep down we know the end (for automobility, for us, for food security, etc.) is nigh, and by buying a new car we are engaging in a delusional bit of theater in which we are participating in a collective denial of the obvious.

Andrew Margeson
Guest
Andrew Margeson

Instead of just using a stick to thrash car dealers and drivers, the bike community should get behind carrots. We need a radical improvement in public transportation. Give everyone a viable alternative to driving a car. This would indirectly benefit the bike community as there would be fewer cars on the road.

In the Portland area, TriMet is not getting the job done.

Lazy Spinner
Guest
Lazy Spinner

Are car sales up in Oregon because many cannot afford to buy a home or upgrade to a newer and nicer one? If you’re priced out of housing, you can salve those feelings of inadequacy and appear more successful to your peers in a plushed out, top-of-the-line luxury vehicle. Behind houses, cars have always been the next best status symbol for the average person.

Mike Sanders
Guest
Mike Sanders

The average price to buy a home in Portland is close to breaking the half million dollar barrier. Livable housing is being pushed further away from downtown. You’re gonna hear lots of talk in Salem next month about moving the urban growth boundary significantly outward. And you’ll hear lots of talk of new roads to serve those outer suburbs, not ped/bike paths. I cringe every time I go thru Oak Grove on 99E and see those back to back car lots…and ped/bike paths are almost nonexistent thru that area. Ever wonder why? Developers want to push working folks as far from downtown as possible. It’s a nasty form of redlining.