A great deal of the new cars produced are done so using recycled steel from old cars and scrap. This is done because it takes a whole heck of a lot less energy, and thus less money to do so. A lot of the materials used in new cars are also greener. For example, Ford makes their seat cushions out of Soy based foam, versus foam made from petroleum.
Population growth is a given, and thus new cars are a necessity. Even so, the average American actually keeps their vehicles longer than when they did back in the 70's and 80's - probably because cars are simply more reliable and longer lasting than they were 20-30 years ago. If you go back to the 50's and 60's, people traded cars every few years because Detroit heavily focused on "planned obsolescence". That, and cars were overall cheaper. So perhaps the argument could also be made that people were more wasteful than than they are now.
The argument keeps on going back and forth between whether cars from 20 years ago pollute 10 times more than today's cars, versus the other side of the argument that not much has changed. Both sides are incorrect. Cars made 20 years ago do not pollute 10 times more than today. Instead that number is something like 20% less for today's cars versus cars made back then. That is a huge difference.
I say this as someone who keeps his cars until the wheels fall off. My oldest car is 55 years old. My youngest is 15. The other argument being made here is about consumerism, and how people buy a lot of things they probably don't need. True - any car can last almost indefinitely as long as you are willing to make repairs. But people like me are the extreme exception, and thus people tend to buy more frequently. In the process, as time passes, the cars they buy are increasingly cleaner and more efficient.
Let's throw in one final set of facts.
According to the July 2010 issue of National Geographic, US coal plants produce 2.5 billion metric tonnes of CO2 per year. With some conversion, that is 5 trillion, 510 billion pounds of CO2.
Let's compare that to say, a million cars that might be on the road still from the 1980's, each producing 5,000 lbs. annually of CO2. That is 5 billion tons of CO2 annually.
Granted, 5 billion tons of CO2 is a lot, but consider that that amount is only one-thousandth (1/1000) of what coal-fired power plants produce. So, what is the real source of pollution? I would suggest that it is not the guy driving an old Buick Skylark to work, which pales into insignificance beside the real problem.
I think the 1976-78 Chrysler New Yorkers were one of the most beautiful cars ever built.
"I think the 1976-78 Chrysler New Yorkers were one of the most beautiful cars ever built."
Me too! Unsurprisingly, they often get called 'ugly' by a lot of people: they elicit strong reactions on both sides.
What's changed is that people are poorer - the standard of living for all but the very rich is quite a lot lower than in the 60s and 70s.
We had a pretty serious recession in the 70's - as you may recall. The 80's was even worse. I mean - seriously... you want to call a Chevette a car that is proof of how well we were doing?
I ran a carbon footprint on my '86 Mercury GM (Ford CV).
1985 (Single point injection) : 6,854 lbs
1986 (Multiport injection) : 5,826 lbs
2011 (Multiport injection) : 5,826 lbs
Since the introduction of catalytic converters, electronic ignition and multiport injection, there are no significant changes. And I'm sure the 2011 Crown Vic passed legislation.
The standard of living was higher in the 60s and 70s, and began to go down in the 80s because of Reagan. It has been downhill ever since because of right-wing governments.
Many Americans are poorer now than before because taxes are too high... largely to support "those who choose not to work". How absurd and stupid!