Today there are 242 million registered cars on the road, which
equals the last 16 years of new car and light truck sales. This
is down from the peak of 248 million in 2008.
I recently read a report called "Transportation and the New
Generation" (TNG) by U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group.
The statistic that intrigued me the most was, "According to the
Federal Highway Administration, from 2000 to 2010, the share of
14- to 34-year-olds without a driver's license increased from 21
percent to 26 percent." How will this trend strain demand into
2015? Are there other trends which might provide clues to future
demand for the automobile?
I decided to take a look at industry statistics and demographics
which may provide clues on the future demand of both auto parts
and car and light truck sales.
Comparison of car and light truck statistics 2005 vs. 2011
|Average age of car and light trucks on the road,
|Average age of cars only, years
|Average age of light trucks only, years
|Car and light truck sales, millions
|*Scrapped vehicles as a % of new registrations
Source: R.L. Polk , Ward, FHA, NADA
The average age of car and light trucks on the road increased to
10.8 years, up 13.6% from its 2005 average. Separating the data,
light trucks average age increase more sharply, up 19.5% from the
2005 average. Many light trucks are used for
semi-commercial/small business purposes, as a result the average
age increased more sharply. As this occurred many auto parts
retailers stocks benefited from this change. Autozone and O'Reily
Auto Parts are up 300% since 2005. Stocks of auto makers like GM,
Ford and Chrysler all were hit badly in this period. Will this
|Number of registered vehicles, millions
|Number of Licenses Drivers, millions
|US Population 15-34, in millions
|US Population 35-69, in millions
|US Population 74+, in millions
|Licensed Drivers to population
|Sources: Federal HighwayAdminstration and
The amount of registered vehicles was flat between 2005 and 2010
at 242 million. At the same time the population available to
drive grew by 5.15% in the same period. The amount of licensed
drivers grew less than the available-to-drive population at
4.48%. Since 2005, 15% of the available-to-drive population do
not have driver's license. Who are they? Why did they choose not
to get a driver's license? According to the report previously
mentioned, they are the 14- to 34-year-old group.
Are the Auto Parts Retailers near a market top?
Although the amount of registered cars remained at 242 million
since 2005, the Auto Parts retailers benefited from an increase
in the average age of the car. The sweet spot of the auto parts
retailer may soon be over as some demographic and cultural
changes in driving and car ownership are appearing in the stats.
As less of the newly able to drive choose not to get a license,
the amount of cars that remain on the road will decline. The TNG
report stated that some of the reasons are related to costs,
living in cities, easier public transportation options, and more
comprehensive driver exams. The report did not look at the
elderly, the part of the population which is expected to grow the
most in the next decade. This group is limited to purchases as
they become physically unable to continue to drive.
As the trend of 15- to 34-year-olds without a license continues,
the current unlicensed 29- to 34-year-olds will be in the 35 to
69 age group by 2015, diminishing that group's demand for
automobiles in the future. Now consider the large loss of drivers
at the 70-or-higher age as that age group is expected to expand
the greatest over the next five years.
What you get is all driver age groups declining and a
measurable decline in the demand for the automobile (new or used)
in the US.
With 300% or higher gains in AutoZone and O'Reily's Auto, I will
give them a couple of more quarters until you see these
demographic changes hit their earnings and stock prices.
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