By Mark Rechtin, Crain News Service
LOS ANGELES (Aug. 6, 2013) -- Americans continue to hang onto their cars, minivans and crossovers -- many of them first purchased when President Clinton was in office -- and helping to push the average age of the nation's light-vehicle population to a record high, according to data released by R.L. Polk & Co.
Polk said the average age of all light vehicles on the road now stands at a record high of 11.4 years. That's up from 11.2 years last year and 10.9 years in 2010.
Beginning in 2002, when the average age of the nation's car and light-vehicle fleet was 9.8 years, the figure has continued to rise for 11 consecutive years.
For passenger cars, the average age hit a record high of 11.4 years, while the average age of light trucks increased to a record 11.3 years, Polk said.
The latest data are based on a review of more than 247 million U.S. car and light truck registrations in January, Polk said.
The volume of 6- to 11-year-old vehicles actually declined slightly in the most recent Polk survey, while the number of vehicles older than 12 years increased by more than 20 percent.
U.S. light-vehicle sales peaked at more than 17.2 million units in 2000-2001 and many of the cars and trucks purchased then are still in operation. U.S. light-vehicle demand slipped later in the early 2000s and rebounded to nearly 17 million in 2004-05.
Sales hit a 27-year low of 10.4 million units in 2009.
"These are interesting times for the automotive aftermarket," said Mark Seng, vice president of Polk's aftermarket practice.
"Customers from independent and chain repair shops should be paying close attention to their business plans and making concerted efforts to retain business among the do-it-for-me audience, while retailers have a unique and growing opportunity with potential consumers wrenching on their own vehicles."
Americans are holding onto cars and light trucks longer for economic reasons, particularly since the recession, and because vehicles are engineered and assembled to last longer, analysts say.
At the same time, the nation's aging car and light-truck population is creating pent-up demand that is spurring U.S. new-vehicle sales higher, analysts say.
Polk projects the number of cars and light trucks in operation will grow 5 percent to more than 260 million vehicles by 2018, up from 247 million this year.
The number of registered light vehicles in the U.S. hit a record of 250 million in 2008, during the latest economic downturn, Polk said.
Mark Rechtin is a reporter for Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.