Erroneous “Experts”

If you can stand to listen to the news lately, you hear one instance after another of the “experts” getting things hilariously, and sometimes tragically, wrong.  This is not a new phenomenon, and one good example from the early years of the automobile industry involves the “saturation point,” or that point when more automobiles are built than can be consumed.  Believe it or not, the doomsayers were active from almost the inception of the American automobile industry.

In 1917, one expert lecturing at the New York Auto Show opined that there were 7.5 million Americans who needed cars.  He had calculated this number based in part on the number of farmers (3.5 million farms of 100 or more acres) but stipulated that some of these farms did not produce enough “to warrant the owner to invest in a motor car.”

A short time later, in the mid-1920s, car registrations had blown past that 7.5 million number and actually exceeded 20 million, but the bad predictions continued.  From the St. Louis Post:

“Allowing the modest estimate of five years as the total life of a car, though, on  rebuilt basis, cars today are probably in commission an average of ten years, and then let the 20 percent increase in new cars continue each year, we get the astounding new car production of 32,107,794 by 1929.

The estimated population of the United States has increased, roughly, 10 percent in the last five years, or is today 113,493,720. If this rate of increase in population keeps up, which it may not do, due to restricted immigration, then every fourth person in the United States would have to be the owner of a new car to absorb car production.”

The papers were full of references to the saturation point during this time period with other groups estimating that point to be around 40 million cars and that it would be reached in 1936.

Well, by 1951 there were nearly 50 million registrations with no saturation point in sight as families were purchasing multiple cars per household.  All of the hand-wringing regarding saturation levels proved to be unfounded, but of course the hand-wringers are never held accountable. The editors at the Meriden Daily Journal were on to their game in 1926, however, and the first paragraph of their editorial on the subject pulls no punches:

“Every little while some apostle of gloom will raise his voice in a warning that automobile stocks will soon glut the market and that people who buy automobiles or purchase stock in the companies are foolish, because the saturation point is reached. Some of these professional pessimists have been talking this for five years and each year their voices are louder and pitched a bit higher and they try to tell us that we are making a serious mistake in not paying attention to them.  The only people that do pay attention are those who let others do their thinking for them and who are always ready to accept any gloomy prophecy.”

Sound familiar?

On a lighter note, with choices like this, who could blame those families of the 1950s for wanting multiple cars?

1955 Buick at the Classic Car Collection in Kearney, Nebraska.
1955 Chevrolet
1957 Oldsmobile
1955 Ford Customline


“Automobile Saturation Point.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 24 April 1926, p. 12.
“Auto Saturation Point Far Ahead.” Tulsa Daily World, 4 February 1917, p. 11.
“Automobile Saturation Point Is Placed at 40,000,000.” St. Petersburg Times, 6 June 1926, p. 8.
“Auto Saturation Likely in 1936.”  Woodward Daily Press,  14 July 1927, p. 1.
“Locus of Automobile Saturation Point Is Still Vanishing.” The Fort Collins Sunday Express-Courier, 13 November 1927, p.1.
“The Automobile Saturation Point.” The Meriden Daily Journal, 12 May 1926, p. 10.