New cars in the U.S. may be getting better gas mileage than they used to, but that doesn't necessarily mean the vehicles on the road are a whole lot more fuel efficient, overall. That's because more and more of us are driving older cars and light-duty trucks.

The average age of the approximately 240 million light-duty vehicles on U.S. roads has risen about 12 percent in the past five years, according to automotive data research firm Polk. The average car or light truck on the road last year was 10.8 years old, up from a 9.7-year average in 2006. Cars were, on average, 11.1 years old in 2011, while trucks were 10.4 years old, Polk said.

The age increase reflects how consumers cut back on new-vehicle purchases during the most recent economic downturn. Americans bought almost 13 million new vehicles last year, down from an annual rate of about 16 million a decade ago, but up from about 10 million during the depths of the recession. Such longer ownership spells good news for repair shops and sellers of aftermarket auto components, but not for overall fuel economy. The average new vehicle in 2000 got about 12 percent lower fuel economy than vehicles sold during the 2010 model year, the most recent tracked by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
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Average Age of Vehicles Reaches Record High, According to Polk
Tuesday, January 17, 2012

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (Jan. 17, 2012) -- The average age of cars and light trucks currently in operation in the U.S. has increased to 10.8 years, according to Polk, a leading global automotive market intelligence firm. Passenger cars showed a modest increase in age since 2010, from 11 years to just 11.1 years at the end of June 2011 (see table A). Light trucks (including pickups and SUVs) show a more sizeable gain in the same timeframe, from 10.1 years to 10.4 years. Overall, average vehicle age has been increasing quickly over the past five years. Polk reports average age based on an analysis of national vehicle registration data.
Sales Declines in 2008-09 Continue to Impact Age of Fleet

The slowdown of the aging of passenger cars directly correlates to the low sales volumes and the mix of car and truck sales in the U.S. market in 2008 and 2009, a time in which more trucks than cars were registered. While more trucks were sold over the same timeframe, they showed a faster aging rate. Polk expects this trend may change in the coming years as CUV and small SUV populations in the U.S. market have risen in 2010 and 2011 due to their continued success in the market. Additionally, the rebound in new vehicle sales in 2011 and for the next couple of years will most likely slow down the aging rate seen in the market over the past three years, according to Polk.

"The increasing age of the vehicle fleet, together with the increasing length of ownership, offers significant business growth opportunity for the automotive aftermarket," said Mark Seng, global aftermarket practice leader at Polk. "Dealer service departments and independent repair facilities, as well as aftermarket parts suppliers, will see increased business opportunity with customers in need of vehicle service."
Year-over-year Light Vehicle Population Declines Come to an End

2011 marked the end of the U.S. vehicle population decline that has occurred annually since 2008. According to Polk, the total vehicles in operation (VIO) in July 2011 was just over 240.5 million, an increase of 500,000 units over July in the previous year, and nearly equal to 2009 VIO (see table B). The highest VIO on record was achieved in July 2008, when more than 242 million passenger cars and light trucks were on America's roads.

About Polk

Polk is the premier provider of automotive information and marketing solutions. The organization collects and interprets global data, and provides extensive automotive business expertise to help customers understand their market position, identify trends, build brand loyalty, conquest new business and gain a competitive advantage. Polk helps automotive manufacturers and dealers, automotive aftermarket companies, finance and insurance companies, advertising agencies, media companies, consulting organizations, government agencies and market research firms make good business decisions. A privately held global firm, Polk is based in Southfield, Michigan with operations in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.

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