Market Snapshot

Americans Keep Cars Longer, Create Opportunities for Specialty-Equipment Businesses

More Americans are keeping their cars longer, according to a recent report from R.L. Polk & Company. The automotive research firm found that the median age of passenger cars in operation increased to 9.4 years in 2008, breaking the previous two-year record high of 9.2 years.

Trucks are also aging, the median age rising to 7.6 years from 7.3 years in 2007.

This trend spells bad news for both new- and used-car dealers, but an opportunity for specialty-equipment businesses.

“I’m getting increasing requests from pre-owned dealerships to dress up high-end vehicles and quite a few theft recoveries from vehicles bought at auction,” said Diana Braschler, president of Dealer Source Ltd.

Braschler’s San Antonio, Texas-based company was named 2008 Restyler of the Year by the Professional Restylers Organization (PRO).

Braschler notes that dealer customers are increasingly paying more for used vehicles at auction or finding cars out of state to fulfill demand.

“One of my customers commented that the sale of new-to-used cars used to be four-to-one,” Braschler said. “Now it’s one new to four used.”

R.L. Polk also noted the trend to keeping cars longer in a separate study. In a survey of U.S. consumers, 64% said they were “very or extremely likely” to keep their current vehicle longer due to economic conditions. Also, 81% of the 713 interviewed vehicle owners said they intended to take better care of their cars.

SEMA market research also shows that 83% of enthusiasts surveyed in January did not plan to replace their daily driver in the next 12 months. Sixty percent also said that they intended to accessorize their daily driver in the next year, while 65% agreed that keeping their vehicle longer than expected was the motivating factor in their accessorization plans.

Additionally, 47% of enthusiasts surveyed in a separate SEMA survey last fall said they purchased parts for their used vehicle to improve fuel economy.

It’s an opportune time for businesses selling functional accessory and appearance products.

“We are starting to see a slight uptick in sales,” said Ron DiVincenzo, General Manager of Cap World Inc., also chairman of the Truck and Off-Road Alliance (TORA). “We may have hit bottom, and now we need to start to move the needle forward a little.” — Dan Frio