Americans are driving older cars as workers stay home, economy slows

Economy
2/2 © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Rush hour traffic moves north and south on interstate 5 near Encinitas, California © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Rush hour traffic moves north and south on interstate 5 near Encinitas, California 2/2

By Joseph White

DETROIT (Reuters) – Americans are hanging on to their cars and trucks longer, pushing the average age of vehicles on the road to the highest level in nearly 20 years even before the coronavirus hit, according to new data from IHS Markit Ltd (N:).

That is not good for emissions or safety, but it could give a lift to companies that manufacture and sell repair parts.

IHS Markit, which gathers and analyzes data on a wide range of industries, said the average age of cars, sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks rose to 11.9 years as of January 2020 from 11.8 years for the prior year.

Graphic: Average age of light vehicles in the U.S. – https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-AUTO/AGE/qmyvmkkbbvr/

Data for the period since the coronavirus pandemic hit the global economy are not final, but the sharp slowdown in vehicle sales is likely to push the average age of vehicles on U.S. roads over 12 years, said Todd Campau, associate director of aftermarket solutions for IHS Markit.

“We definitely expect to eclipse the 12-year barrier,” he said. People working from home could put fewer miles on vehicles, allowing them to last longer, he said.

The average age of cars and light trucks has been increasing steadily for nearly 20 years, reflecting rising prices for new vehicles and improved durability that allows older vehicles to travel more miles with more owners before they are scrapped, Campau said.

The aging U.S. vehicle fleet has been an issue as U.S. lawmakers have debated economic stimulus plans. Proposals to provide government-funded incentives to retire older, more polluting vehicles, or encourage drivers to get new vehicles with more advanced safety technology have so far not gained much traction.

Manufacturers of repair parts and vehicle repair shops should benefit from America’s aging and expanding vehicle fleet, IHS Markit forecast. The United States has more than 280 million vehicles on the road.

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