Americans have changed their attitudes about cars -- and it's a huge boon for the US auto industry

Rusted car broken junkyardMihnea Stanciu/FlickrUS cars aren’t quite this old.

America is not a nation that likes to drive old cars — at least we weren’t until the financial crisis.
But ever since the end of the crisis, and the beginning of a booming recovery in the US auto market, we’ve been doing just that.
Since about 2009 the age of a car or truck on US roads has steadily averaged about 11 years — ancient, by American standards.

Throughout the industry, the expectation has been that this average vehicle age will drop, as American’s replace the old cars and pent-up demand from post-crisis period is satisfied.

However, it doesn’t look like that’s happening. This is from Bloomberg auto reporter Jamie Butters:

Even as U.S. sales of new vehicles roll along at record highs, improved durability continues to extend the average age of autos on the road. That age is 11.6 years, said [IHS Markit’s Mark Seng], up from 11.5 years in 2015. The average age increased about 3 per cent during the five years before the recession that depressed sales in 2008 and 2009, leading to the bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler.

Market observers had expected that a lot of older cars would be retired due to a technology gap. Ten or 15 years ago there’s wasn’t that much of a technology difference between a new car and one that was a decade old.

That’s not true these days. Today’s new cars, with infotainment and driver-assist technology, and even self-driving features can make a vehicle that’s just a few years old seem like it runs on steam.

However, a need for affordable mobility appears to have overcome that expectation, and — in truth — a car that’s a decade old was probably still designed and engineered well enough to make it to 200,000 miles on the odometer, if it’s well cared for.

So, it seems, we’re turning into a country that drives pretty old cars for a while longer.

Of course those older vehicles will also be replaced, eventually. So the pent-up-demand driver of the US auto market isn’t quite ready to go away.

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