Americans owe more money for new and used cars than ever: $866 billion, according to Experian Automotive.
That’s the outstanding loan balance for vehicles in the U.S. and not only have Americans borrowed more than ever for cars, the average length of new car loans is a record-high 67.2 months – almost six years.
It’s not entirely surprising as new cars are being sold for their highest prices ever, according to TrueCar. The average transaction price for new cars in 2014 was $31,831. Next year it’s expected to surpass the $32,500.
Also it’s well-documented that lenders have loosened up their requirements, which certainly played a role in the record loan number, but only in the sense that sub-prime and deep sub-prime buyers were give more loans – like everyone else.
“Whenever there is an uptick in the number of loans to sub-prime and deep sub-prime customers, there is the potential for a ‘sky is falling’ type of reaction,” said Melinda Zabritski, Experian’s director of automotive finance.
“The reality is we are looking at a remarkably stable automotive-loan market, in part because consumers are continuing to stay on top of their payments.”
Sub-prime and deep sub-prime borrowers – those with credit ratings of 501-600 and 500 and lower respectively – accounted for 20.3% of all borrowers in the fourth quarters, a slight decline from 20.6% a year earlier.
Loans to the most credit-worthy borrowers – super-prime (781-850) – accounted for 20% of all fourth-quarter auto loans and were the only category to increase share in the year.
Perhaps most importantly, these numbers are unlikely to shrink any time soon. AutoPacific Inc. predicts that new vehicle sales will continue to grow for three more years with the high water mark of 17.24 million in 2017.
(Study forecasts three more years of auto sales growth. For more, Click Here.)
Americans bought 16.4 million vehicles last year, a nearly 6% year-over-year increase, and well ahead of the predictions most analysts and planners made at the beginning of 2014. AutoPacific is forecasting demand will rise to 17 million this year.
(Click Here for details about Volvo’s 100 autonomous vehicles coming in 2017.)
The big story is the explosive growth of the compact crossover segment, among both mainstream and premium brands. That is spurring a flood of new products, ranging from the 2016 Honda CR-V to the Lincoln MKC. And, if the old industry maxim holds true, new product generates more new buyers.
(To see more about the expected rise in gas prices, Click Here.)
It also is expected to see vehicles loosely grouped into the “truck” category continue to gain momentum at the expense of more traditional passenger cars. AutoPacific forecasts pickups, SUVs, crossovers and other truck models will command a record 55% share of the overall U.S. market for 2015.