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U.S. Consumers Hold on to New Vehicles Nearly Six Years, an All-Time High

Weak economy, increased vehicle durability both factors, says Polk

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (Feb. 21, 2012) – Based on an analysis of U.S. vehicle registrations by Polk, a leading global market intelligence firm, the average length of ownership of vehicles that were purchased new has risen to a record 71.4 months, or nearly six years (see Table A). For consumers who purchased used vehicles, the average length of ownership is nearly 49.9 months. Combined, new and used vehicle owners are holding on to their vehicles for an average 57 months. For new and used owners combined, the length of vehicle ownership among U.S. consumers has increased 23 percent since the third quarter of 2008, coinciding with the economic downturn.

A number of factors contribute to the increased length of ownership, according to Polk, which analyzed vehicle registration data through Sept. 2011. First, consumer spending remains conservative in a still-weak job market with relatively high unemployment rates. Second, many buyers have longer-term financing options to secure more affordable payments. Third, vehicles produced in recent years have been more durable and more reliable than their predecessors, according to different industry reports. Several manufacturers are also offering longer warranties for new vehicles, reducing the risk for consumers who want to keep vehicles longer.

Polk's new findings, coupled with the increased average age of vehicles on the road, which now stands at 10.8 years for cars and light trucks combined, offer promise for the automotive aftermarket.

"As the aftermarket prepares to service this aging vehicle population, this creates concerns about appropriate parts inventory," said Mark Seng, global aftermarket practice leader at Polk. "As a result of our analysis, we're currently working with customers in the aftermarket to help them prepare for increasing demand throughout the entire supply chain," he said.

Length of Ownership Trend Expected to Continue

Polk analysts don't anticipate new vehicle sales will reach pre-downturn levels of 16 million units until 2015 and Polk does not expect to see an immediate decline in the length of ownership trend over the next few years, according to Seng. "Unemployment rates continue to be high, and we expect many consumers will suffer from the lingering effects of the downturn, further contributing to longer ownership trends," he said.

Earlier Polk analyses also show that new vehicle owners exhibit lower brand loyalty as they retain their cars or trucks longer. This trend demonstrates the importance of targeting potential auto buying consumers at the right time. Leaders involved in new vehicle sales may want to consider tracking the length of ownership trend to determine when their customers are likely to come back. A length of ownership analysis at the manufacturer or brand level may provide insight into the return-to-market cycle to stimulate purchase behavior.

For additional details about this latest Polk analysis, please visit the following link.

Table A 

Average Length of Vehicle Ownership in Months – Passenger Cars and Light Trucks Among U.S. Households 

Quarter/Year Among Those with New Vehicles Among Those with Used Vehicles Total (New and Used Vehicle Ownership Combined)
Q1 2003 49.8 32.2 38.0
Q3 2003 50.2 33.1 38.7
Q1 2004 50.0 33.6 39.3
Q3 2004 51.6 35.3 40.9
Q1 2005 52.0 35.9 41.4
Q3 2005 52.8 37.2 42.4
Q1 2006 52.1 37.7 42.5
Q3 2006 53.5 38.7 43.7
Q1 2007 53.1 38.4 43.4
Q3 2007 54.8 40.1 45.1
Q1 2008 54.6 40.0 45.0
Q3 2008 56.3 41.3 46.3
Q1 2009 58.6 43.7 48.9
Q3 2009 60.6 44.2 49.9
Q1 2010 63.2 45.9 51.8
Q3 2010 65.3 46.9 53.1
Q1 2011 66.7 47.5 53.9
Q3 2011 71.4 49.9 57.0

Note: Length of ownership is based on a quarterly snapshot among U.S. vehicle-owning households.


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