Americans are buying cars and not letting go of them. What's to blame?
American cars, light trucks, and SUVs are now older than ever, hitting a record 12.5 years old on average according to an analysis from S&P Global Mobility. This number is up three months over this time last year and is a result of the lingering effects of new vehicle inventory shortages pushing Americans to buy used along with the Federal government pushing interest rates up to curb inflation. This is the sixth straight year of average vehicle age increases.
The good news is the company expects 2023 to be the last year we feel these lingering effects of the pandemic, as we end up returning to conventional trends in 2024. Whether or not the Inflation Reduction Act is actually succeeding to curb inflation is yet to be seen, but what we do know is it's spurring huge investments in the automotive sector that won't be realized for a few more years at least.
The effects of older vehicles on the road can be far-reaching, with two industries benefitting the most being the repair and aftermarket industries. As vehicles get older, there's obviously more money to be made in repairs, and new parts need to be created when automakers decide to stop supporting older models. S&P says that the US light-duty aftermarket alone has grown to $356.5 billion in 2022, an 8.5% increase over 2021. The company is now forecasting it to grow 5% in 2023.
On top of this, S&P is projecting the volumes of vehicles aged 6-14 will grow by 10 million by 2028, which shifts the understood dynamics of the aftermarket industry. "Traditionally, the 'sweet spot' for aftermarket repair was considered 6-11 years of age, but with the average age at 12.5 years, the sweet spot for aftermarket repair is growing," said Todd Campau, associate director of aftermarket solutions for S&P Global Mobility. "There are almost 122 million vehicles in operation over 12 years old."
The unsurprising part of these trends is that out of cars and light-duty trucks in this country, light-duty trucks are winning our hearts and wallets. Out of all new vehicles registered in the US last year, 78% of them belonged to the light truck/utility category, with that category growing to represent 63% of the market. With this success comes the tradeoff that the number of passenger cars on the road will fall beneath 100 million for the first time since 1978.
With this context, the average vehicle age is also starting to make a little more sense too. Truck owners are notorious for keeping their vehicles longer than any others, and this is thanks to their durability and reliability.
Unfortunately, with the growing complexity and capability of new entry-level trucks, all the way up to halo models like the F-150 Raptor R and Ram TRX, repairs and maintenance are becoming increasingly expensive. A boon for the aforementioned repair and aftermarket industries but something that's going to drain the wallets of consumers as the years go on.
Finally, the report found that the electric vehicle market share is growing, and the average life is stagnating at around 3.6 years old. Electric vehicle registrations increased by 58% in 2022 over 2021, but EVs are also spending less time registered on the road than their ICE counterparts, with 6.6% leaving the fleet over ICE vehicles' 5.2%. These are growing pains that we imagine will fall dramatically as the number of electric vehicles on sale skyrockets and the technology significantly improves in the next few years.
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