The average age of light vehicles on the road in the U.S. reached a new all-time high of 11.5 years at the end of 2014, while the total light vehicles in operation hit a record 257.9 million, up 2.1 percent from 2013, IHS Automotive says.
The average age of cars on the road previously reached an all-time high of 11.4 years at the end of 2012, a record that held through the end of 2013. Despite reaching a new high, the rate of increase in average age is actually returning to normal, IHS analyst Mark Seng said.
“We’re now seeing average age begin to plateau and return to its traditional rate of increase as consumers have recovered from the great recession and have begun buying new vehicles again,” he said in a statement.
IHS forecasts that the average age of vehicles will hit 11.6 years in 2016, but will not reach 11.7 years until 2018.
It doesn’t appear as though vehicle age will go down in the future, Seng said.
“As long as we’ve been tracking it, vehicle age has been on the rise,” he told Automotive News. “Vehicle quality is getting better and that’s driving a longer length of ownership.”
IHS found new-vehicle buyers are holding onto their cars for 6.5 years on average, as of the first quarter of 2015. That’s more than a two-year increase since the first quarter of 2006.
“People are holding on to their new cars for longer than ever before, and that’s helping to drive average age up,” Seng said.
New-vehicle registrations eclipsed the number of scrapped vehicles by more than 42 percent in 2014, the highest rate since IHS began keeping track in 2002.
The figures are based on a study of vehicles in operation on Jan. 1, IHS said.
IHS forecasts the volume of newer vehicles new to five years old will rise 24 percent over the next five years. Vehicles in the 6- to 11-year range are predicted to decline by 11 percent, while those 12 years and older are expected to increase by 15 percent.
Seng said the decline in the number of vehicles 6 to 11 years old is shrinking the aftermarket “sweet spot,” which are model years that drive the majority of aftermarket repair opportunities.
“I believe we need to begin thinking about that ‘sweet spot’ differently,” Seng said. “Now that the average age is 11.5 years, the key repair opportunities must include vehicles older than 11 years.”