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February 15, 2017

Volume 17 Issue 52

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U.S. Aftermarket Benefits from Growing Fleet

Registrations for light vehicles in operation – including cars, light trucks, SUVs and crossover SUVs – in the U.S. reached a record level of more than 264 million in 2016, up 2.4 percent from 2015, according to IHS Markit.

Adding vehicles to the fleet on the road is a boon for the automotive aftermarket industry – those in components manufacturing, repair and service. Mark Seng, the market analysts’ director of its global automotive aftermarket practice, said that whenever more vehicles are added to the fleet, which increases vehicles in operation, it also means many more vehicles need service, including engine oil changes. “Obviously, things like longer maintenance cycles -- 10,000 mile oil changes rather than 3,000 or 5,000 – is a negative impact, but having more vehicles directly translates to more overall opportunities for that service or repair,” he told Lube Report.

According to IHS Markit, consumers are continuing the trend of holding onto their vehicles longer than ever. As of the end of 2015, the average length of ownership reached a record 79.3 months, more than 1.5 months longer than reported in the previous year. For used vehicles, it is nearly 66 months. Both are significantly longer periods than were measured a decade ago, the firm found.

The average age of light vehicles in operation in the U.S. also climbed to 11.6 years in 2016. “Quality of new vehicles continues to be a key driver of the rising average vehicle age over time. The recession created an acceleration beyond its traditional rate due to the nearly 40 percent drop in new vehicle sales in 2008-2009,” Seng said in a news release. “In the last couple of years, however, average age is returning to a more traditional rate of increase.”

Vehicles scrapped – which means taken out of service – during 2015 remained relatively flat compared to 2014, with just over 11 million light vehicles retired out of the fleet, representing about 4.3 percent of the overall U.S. vehicle population. IHS Markit noted the figure is significantly less than the record high of more than 14 million vehicles scrapped in 2012.

The research firm’s analysis says the average age growth of the vehicle fleet will bring new opportunity for the automotive aftermarket. “The 40 percent drop in new light vehicle registrations experienced during the downtown in 2008-2010 is something that will be felt by those businesses involved in the aftermarket for years to come due to its significant impact on the various age segments of the overall fleet,” IHS Markit stated. “This measure is closely monitored, as it is important to business planners in the aftermarket and service industries – the people who manage inventories of parts required and plan for sale and service activity accordingly.”

According to IHS Markit, the shifting average age of vehicles in operation indicates the volumes of vehicles in the new to five-years-old category will grow 16 percent by 2021, while vehicles in the six to 11-years-old range will grow just 5 percent, and vehicles that are at least 12 years old will grow 10 percent.

The oldest vehicles on the road are growing the fastest – with vehicles 16 years and older expected to grow 30 percent from 62 million units today to 81 million units in 2021. The firm’s research also indicates more than 20 million vehicles on the road in 2021 will be over 25 years old.

Businesses in the automotive aftermarket are working to adjust to the changing landscape.

“The savvy aftermarket players – the long-term survivors – will have to figure out how the aging fleet will impact repair opportunities and make moves to leverage those opportunities,” Seng said. “This would include things like pricing strategies (what will people pay for repairs/service on these older vehicles) and, somewhat related, marketing strategies (good, better, best branding).”

Larry Solomon, president of automotive aftermarket consultancy Strategic Resources Inc., said in a phone interview that while the trend of drivers holding onto cars longer is good news in terms of repair work for the automotive aftermarket and parts segment, it could be a cycle that eventually transitions into a trend of more new car purchases instead.

“What’s interesting to me with this data is it’s longer and bigger than we’ve seen in the past,” Solomon said. “We’re at that cycle right now, where [drivers] are keeping them longer. We’ve seen that in the past. That cycle is extending as far as it can, and they will at some point in time keep their car until maintenance costs outweigh the cost of buying a new car.”

Light vehicles in traffic

Photo: Flickr/Robert Couse-Baker

IHS Markit found that registrations for light vehicles in operation – including cars, light trucks, SUVs and crossover SUVs – in the U.S. reached a record level of more than 264 million in 2016, up 2.4 percent from 2015.