If U.S. automakers are selling cars and trucks at a near-record pace that can only mean that buyers are financing those vehicles at a similar rate and the latest data says that is what’s happening.
According to Equifax Inc., as of June 2015, the total outstanding balances on auto loans and leases are $1.021 trillion, a year-over-year increase of 10.5%. Additionally, the number of outstanding accounts has increased 8% from a year ago to 73.7 million.
“Strong sales numbers in both the new-car and used-car markets, coupled with the availability of quality financing for consumers are a few of the main reasons the industry has reached the one trillion dollar mark,” said Dennis Carlson, deputy chief economist at Equifax.
“It clearly reflects that the improving economy has provided the impetus for consumers to replace their aging vehicles and begin to satisfy their pent-up auto demand.”
Sales through June were up 4.4% to 8.5 million units. A robust July saw sales rise 4.5% to bringing the total for the year to 10 million units, compared with the 9.6 million for the same period last year, according to AutoData Corp.
The biggest driver is trucks and luxury vehicles. Trucks are up 10.7% for the first seven months. Luxury sales have been trending upward for the last three years moving from 10.2% in 2012 to 11.5%, says TrueCar, Inc.
The biggest movers in the market also tend to be the most expensive vehicles. Trucks now routinely exceed $45,000 and luxury vehicles are always expensive, especially when the two segments merge.
The estimated average transaction price for light vehicles in the United States was $33,453 in July 2015. New car prices have increased by $856 (up 2.6%) from July 2014, while remaining flat from last month, according to Kelley Blue Book.
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The combination of strong sales and high transaction prices adds up to about $206 billion in consumer spending on autos through the first half of this year, $11.6 billion more than the previous record set in the first half of last year, according to J.D. Power.
Other highlights include:
- More than 9 million auto loans, totalling $182.9 billion, have been originated through April 2015. This is a 5.8% increase in accounts and an 8.0% rise in balances compared to the same time as last year. These are the highest levels for this time period since Equifax began tracking this data.
- 2.12 million auto loans to consumers with an Equifax Risk ScoreSM below 620, generally considered subprime accounts, have been originated through April 2015, a 9.6% increase over last year.
- In 2015 through April, 23.5% of auto loans were issued to consumers with a subprime credit score, a slight increase over the 22.7% seen over the same time period last year.
- The average amount of all auto loans issued in April 2015 was $20,800, which is a 3.65% increase over April 2014, while the average amount for a subprime loan increased 3.74% to $18,200.
In short: financing and leasing totals rise when automakers sell and lease more expensive vehicles than they have in the past. The boom means both captive finance arms and banks are enjoying a brisk business.
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Auto loan balances are growing at similar rates for both banks and finance companies (10.1% and 10.2% year-over-year respectively), the latter is considerably outpacing the former in auto leasing. The report found that finance company lease portfolios are more than seven times the size of bank lease portfolios.
Finance companies are also growing originations faster than banks with 54.2% of all new auto accounts and 51.8% of dollar originations through April 2015 coming through finance companies.
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“The captive auto finance companies are supporting sales for the manufacturers, and dealers continue to work with independent auto finance companies to find the right loans for their customers, particularly in the non-prime space,” Carlson said. “This combination has led to finance companies growing slightly faster than the commercial bank segment.”