A smoking hot sales market hasn’t been enough to reverse the trend of the Americans keeping their cars, trucks and utility vehicles on the road longer. According to IHS Markit, the average age of a “vehicle in operation” hit a new high in 2020 at 12.1 years.
The number’s been rising for years, jumping to the current number from 11.9 years in 2019. The upside is that car mechanics and auto parts stores will likely be busier than last year. However, IHS analysts believe that the aforementioned run of strong new vehicle sales will likely end the streak in 2021.
“A strong finish to 2020 demonstrated the resilience of new vehicle registration as over 8 million new vehicles were registered in the second half of the year, bringing new registrations up to 5.1% of VIO (vehicles in operation) for the whole year,” the company said in a release.
Potentially adding to the run on new vehicles is that drivers largely stayed off the roads last year so even owners who didn’t necessarily plan to buy a new vehicle during the pandemic-induced lockdowns last year, may face some hard choices as they put their older vehicles back into full service again — and they falter.
Factors involved in 2020 jump
Vehicle miles traveled fell 13% compared with 2019 as more people were allowed to work from home and dealt with lockdown measures across the country. Despite this, the scrappage rate of vehicles rose to more than 15 million vehicles — accounting for 5.6% of operating vehicles, which is the second-highest total in the 20 years.
“(Last year) was a radical departure from the norm and challenged assumptions about how vehicle owners use their vehicles and accumulate miles; from a vehicle fleet perspective, one of the real surprises was the number of vehicles that suddenly exited the active population,” said Todd Campau, associate director of Aftermarket Solutions at IHS Markit.
According to the analysis, the rate and mix of vehicles leaving the population point to the possibility the volume may be inflated due to a larger percentage of vehicles that may not have been registered due to lags in state requirements for registration renewals, more vehicles being put into “storage” due to COVID-19 restrictions in many locations and work from home initiatives, according to the research firm.
Decline in age may not be as steep as imagined
Although buyers are, in some instances, purchasing vehicles as dealers are driving off the car hauler. Although demand is strong — IHS predicts 16.8 million vehicles will be sold in 2021, which would approach the all-time record — there are a few factors in play that could “mute” the decline in the average age.
“The microchip shortage and subsequent inventory levels for new vehicles have created a situation in which used vehicle values have gotten extremely high,” Campau said, “so a vehicle owner who may have kept a vehicle in the garage that they were not using in 2020.
“Now (they) instead may take advantage of the opportunity to either reduce the number of vehicles in their garage, or trade up to something newer while the demand and value is extremely high on their used vehicle.
“This is great news for the aftermarket as subsequent vehicle owners typically have a higher propensity to use independent repair shops for necessary maintenance and repair.”
EVs seeing a jump
Electric vehicle sales continue to rise and are expected to take another leap forward in 2021 with a few new introductions either hitting their stride, such as the Ford Mustang Mach-E and Chevrolet Bolt, or the roll out of new vehicles like the Kia EV6, Hyundai Ioniq 5 and more.
There are nearly 1 million EVs traversing U.S. roads right now, according to the firm. They are an average of 3.9 years old and have basically floated around that number since 2016, getting as low as 3.8 years and a high as 4.1 years old. IHS stats confirm the findings of others — EV owners like their vehicles.
They found that 89% of EV owners since 2016 still owned their vehicles, compared to just 68% of gas-powered vehicle owners. That said, they expect that the average age of EVs will increase in the near future as more and more current EV owners move into their next electric vehicle and push their current model out into the used car market.