The average age of light vehicles in operation in the U.S. has risen again this year to 11.8 years, according to new research from IHS Markit.
“Better technology and overall vehicle quality improvements continue to be key drivers of the rising average vehicle age over time,” said Mark Seng, director of global automotive aftermarket practice at IHS Markit. “The 40-percent drop in new vehicle sales due to the recession created an acceleration in average age like we’ve never seen before. In the last couple of years, however, average age has returned to its more traditional rate of increase.”
The current acceleration trend for the aging U.S. vehicle fleet dates back to 2002, according to HIS Markit. From 2002-2007, the average age of light vehicles in the U.S. increased by 3.5 percent. From 2008-2013, however, the increase was 12.2 percent. During the past five years, the average age increase has returned to its more traditional rate, aging 4 percent.
Light vehicles in operation in the U.S. have now reached a record level of more than 278 million, an increase of more than 5.9 million (2.2 percent) since 2018, according to HIS Markit. This represents one of the highest annual increases the U.S. auto industry has seen since the analysis firm began tracking the aging U.S. vehicle fleet.
“The increasing VIO fleet is providing a robust new business pipeline for the aftermarket,” Seng said. “A larger fleet means more service and repair opportunities in the future.”
Geographic & Segment Differences
For the first time the analysis included a review of various regions around the country. The oldest light vehicles are found in the West at 12.4 years, while the youngest are found in the Northeast at 10.9 years.
The light vehicle fleet is not aging at the same rate across regions either. In the West, light vehicles increased 1.5 percent from 2018-‘19 while in the Midwest they aged by just 0.4 percent. The state of Montana has the oldest average age with light vehicles averaging 16.6 years. The youngest average age is in Vermont, where the average age of light vehicles is 9.9 years.
Because of the growth in popularity of light trucks—including CUVs and SUVs—vehicle age in the U.S. is also increasing at different rates across vehicle segments. From 2018-2019, the average age of passenger cars increased 2.2 percent while light trucks aged at a rate of just 0.1 percent.
New Repairs on Old Cars
The shift among various age categories continues to be a closely-monitored measure, as it is important to those who manage inventories of required parts and plan for sales and service activity accordingly, according to IHS Markit.
The shifting dynamic of the age of vehicles in operation indicates the volumes of vehicles in the new to five-year-old category will grow 2 percent from 2018-2023, while vehicles in the 6- to 11- year-old range will grow 27 percent, according to the analysis firm.
“This is a very positive trend for the independent aftermarket as it points to a growing repair sweet spot, or growth in the vehicles which drive the most repair opportunities,” according to an IHS Markit press release. “In contrast, vehicles 12-15 years old will decline 27 percent over the same time period.”
“While the decrease in light vehicles 12-15 years of age looks alarming, it relates to the drop in sales due to the recession,” Seng added. “There is simply a lack of 2008 and 2009 model year vehicles due to the lower sales numbers during that timeframe. Even the model years from early in the recovery are lower in number. This disruption simply needs time to work its way through the fleet.”
Current vehicle aging trends are seemingly good new sfor the aftermarket repair industry. These older cars and light trucks are growing very fast, with vehicles 16 years and older expected to grow 22 percent from 2018-2023, reaching 84 million units in 2023. In contrast, there were less than 35 million of 16-plus year old vehicles on the road in 2002.
“The industry must understand how the trend will impact those service opportunities. Rather than selling to the first or second owner of the vehicle, it might be a third, fourth or fifth owner,” HIS Markit stated in a the news release. “Branding and pricing strategies for good, better and best products and services will become more important as the consumers will decide how much they are willing to pay for a needed repair based on the age of their vehicle.”