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Car sharing companies, which started gaining traction in cities about a decade ago, are increasingly becoming a threat to new vehicle sales, according to a new study.

Alix Partners, a consulting and business advisory firm, says a half million vehicle purchases in the U.S. have been avoided due to the growing popularity of car sharing programs like Zipcar and Relay Rides.

Furthermore, the study forecasts that by 2021 car sharing could replace an additional 1.2 million purchases of new vehicles.

"Our study suggests that Americans' willingness to avoid vehicle purchases due to growing car-sharing options is higher than many have thought," said Mark Wakefield, managing director at AlixPartners and leader of the firm's Automotive Practice in North America.

Wakefield believes the growing popularity of car sharing companies is a trend auto makers cannot afford to dismiss.