U.S. Vehicle Registrations vs. Licensed Drivers
I was speaking with someone about the disconnect between motor vehicle registrations and licensed drivers in the United States yesterday. I told them that not long ago I saw an excellent chart (I believe in Automotive News but I can't swear to it) that illustrated how ahead of themselves auto sales had gotten in the United States over the past several years.
I haven't been able to find the specific chart that I saw yet, but I was able to dig up the following chart contains data from the U.S. Department of Transportation. It is the latest information that they have available on this subject, updated through 2006. The trend would be even more pronounced if the chart had contained data from 2007.
As you can see, the number of registered vehicles has risen significantly faster than the number of drivers on the road over the past decade.
This means that during the time that the credit and housing bubble were inflating, consumers were buying "extra" vehicles like work trucks, or fun roadsters to use on the weekend, etc... Heck, I know several people who have at least four cars (this is skewed somewhat because I am in the industry). The massive number of vehicles that businesses were buying figures into these numbers as well. The boom in housing is one of the major causes for the explosion in the sales of pickup trucks over the past decade. Does anyone think that consumers and businesses are going to be as anxious to buy extra vehicles now that the economy is a wreck? I don't.
This means that we will likely see the registration and driver trend lines begin to converge. People keep talking about scrap rates, how long it will take to replace the vehicles that are on the road, etc...but with people no longer purchasing extra vehicles, businesses slashing spending, people in cities deciding that they no longer need new vehicles, unemployed vehicles putting fewer miles on their vehicles and unable to afford new ones, the recent spike in the selling rate of used vehicles, and the fact that today's vehicles last longer than they did years ago, that new vehicle sales can remain at an abnormally low level for much longer than many people think.