DETROIT -- The world that Henry Ford put on wheels is poised for a stall.
In the globe's growing megacities, pollution and gridlock are putting a damper on driving. In India, some commuters are leaving their cars at home to avoid traffic snarls and long prowls for parking. More young Americans are forgoing the dream of auto ownership for public transport, bikes and vehicle-sharing. Cars on the road are lasting longer than ever. All of that may herald a new era for an auto industry weaned on a century of global growth.
The world will reach "Peak Car" -- a point at which annual global sales growth will top out -- in the next decade, several auto-industry analysts predict.
Researcher IHS Automotive, for one, sees annual sales cresting at 100 million within that time. Peak Car is at odds with the ambitious expansion plans of global automakers, which IHS says are gearing up to produce more than 120 million vehicles by 2016 -- almost 50 percent more than last year's worldwide sales mark of 82 million.
The dynamic also threatens the business plans of parts producers, suppliers of raw material and oil companies.
Driving this upheaval is a rapidly emerging reality: The vehicle that ushered in an unparalleled era of personal mobility in the last century is, in many cases, no longer the most convenient conveyance, particularly as more of the world's population migrates to big cities.
No one is predicting that car sales will suddenly fall off or that today's car companies are now dinosaurs.
What the experts do see is a reckoning for car companies, which may have to adapt to a world with less car-buying and more car-sharing, more cars that drive themselves and fewer hot rodders on the highway.
"The key question is: Do you sell cars or do you sell mobility?" said Tim Ryan, New York-based vice chairman of markets and strategy for consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. "If you ignore these megatrends, you run the risk of becoming irrelevant."
There's a counterargument to predictions that sales could peak: Chinese consumers continue to have a voracious appetite for automobiles, as more of the country's 1.3 billion people climb the economic ladder and many demand the freedom and status a car conveys.
China helped drive global auto sales up 46 percent since 2000, and in 2009 the country surpassed the U.S. as the world's largest auto market. Chinese consumers bought 22 million vehicles last year, a mark that automakers and analysts forecast will hit 30 million by 2020.