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Monday, March 02, 2009

Vehicle Sales in January

by Calculated Risk on 3/02/2009 02:22:00 PM

The BEA released vehicle sales for January this morning. Total auto and truck sales in the U.S. were below 10 million (SAAR) for the first time since 1982. I've update the sales and turnover graphs below with the January data.

The automakers will release February sales numbers tomorrow, and here is a preview from MarketWatch: No sales bounce in sight for automakers

The total industry decline, according to, is expected to reach 41.4%. Most forecasts on Wall Street call for a seasonally adjusted annual rate of sales in the low 9-million range, down from 9.6 million last month, which marked a 26-year low.
"The crisis in the automotive market continues to worsen, but we believe we are nearing the bottom of this cycle," J.D. Power analyst Jeff Schuster said in a report last week. "Our expectation is for February or March to be the low point, but a high degree of uncertainty and risk remains for the second half of 2009."
U.S. Vehicle Sales Click on graph for larger image in new window.

The first graph shows monthly vehicle sales (autos and trucks) as reported by the BEA at a Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR).

This shows that sales have plunged to just over a 9.75 million annual rate in January - the lowest rate since 1982. If the car analysts are correct, February will be even worse.

Fleet TurnoverThis graph shows the total number of registered vehicles in the U.S. divided by the sales rate - and gives a turnover ratio for the U.S. fleet (this doesn't tell you the age of the fleet).

Currently this ratio is at 25.5 years, the highest ever. This is an unsustainable level (I doubt most vehicles will last 25 years!), and the ratio will probably decline over the next few years. This could happen with vehicles being removed from the fleet, but more likely because of a sales increase.

This suggests vehicle sales are much nearer the bottom than the top, and there will probably be some sort of modest rebound later this year or in 2010.