Gradual Recovery Over the Next Five Years, But No Return to 17-Million Unit Years Anytime Soon
TUSTIN, Calif. (December 21, 2009) — 2009 will be a memorable year for the automotive industry — unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. The U.S. light vehicle market is expected to close out 2009 at a disastrous 10.3 million sales, down from 16.1 million sales just two years prior and the lowest industry volume since AutoPacific began forecasting automotive sales in 1988. Naturally, the national economic collapse had a profound impact on retail sales of light vehicles.
The industry can look forward to year-on-year recovery over AutoPacific’s five-year forecast period, but at a relatively gradual pace. In the near term, AutoPacific forecasts industry volume of 11.4 million units in 2010 as the economy slowly heals but also as unemployment hampers faster industry sales recovery. 2015 will see industry sales of 15.4 million, a significant improvement from 2009 volumes but still a far cry from the near-17 million unit years seen through much of the past decade.
2008 Promises to be Recent Low in New Vehicle Sales
Economic Doldrums – Short Term
At a recent meeting I was giving a presentation on the State of the Automotive Industry (SOI) in the United States. The SOI includes information on consumer expectations, state of the economy, the growth in nameplates and AutoPacific’s forecast for the industry through 2013. Clearly, the industry is in the dumps in 2008 with sales being forecast to be 15.8-million units. Sales could even be lower with the first two months coming in at a rate of about 15.2-million units.
Record Sales Years on the Horizon
So, in light of this Annis Horribilis (quoting Queen Elizabeth in 1997 “Horrible Year”), the AutoPacific forecast for light vehicle sales going forward peaks at about 18-million units in 2013. That’s after three years when overall sales are higher than the previous 2000 record of 17.3-million units.
Several things are keeping sales depressed right now. The sub-prime mess, credit crisis, devaluation of the dollar, slow down in housing, high fuel prices, etc. All negatively impact sales and consumer confidence in wanting to acquire a new vehicle. These issues impact brands and vehicle classes and vehicle lines differently. For instance, full size pickups are hurt because commercial users defer purchases until the housing sector picks again and retail users who have primarily been buying big pickups for personal use can decide not to buy a new one or add one to their family fleets. The dynamics are really churning.
However, the factors stressing out the economy are generally cyclical and right themselves over time.
GenY to the Rescue
But the ace in the hole, as the economy bounces back, is the emergence of Generation Y (Those car buyers who today are 18 to 30 years of age). GenY is the largest population cohort – equaling or surpassing the Boomer generation (43 – 61). They are just now getting into their vehicle acquisition and family formation years, so they will stimulate sales. At the same time, Boomers are not going quietly into the night. They will continue buying new vehicles well after retirement. So, demographic shifts will provide much of the push for higher sales going forward.
Don Esmond at Toyota has said a 20,000,000 unit year by the middle of the next decade would not be surprising. Don’t know about 20,000,000, but 18-million does seem possible.