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Light Vehicle Sales Per Capita: Our Latest Look At The Long-Term Trend

Mar. 08, 2018 11:02 AM ETCARZ4 Comments
Doug Short profile picture
Doug Short

Note: The charts below have been updated to include the latest report on U.S. Light Vehicle sales from the BEA.

For the past few years, we've been following a couple of transportation metrics: Vehicle Miles Traveled and Gasoline Volume Sales. For both series, we focus on the population adjusted data. Let's now do something similar with the Light Vehicle Sales report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. This data series stretches back to January 1976. Since that first data point, the Civilian Noninstitutional Population Age 16 and Over (i.e., driving age, not in the military, or an inmate) has risen about 66%.

Here is a chart, courtesy of the FRED repository, of the raw data for the seasonally adjusted annualized number of new vehicles sold domestically in the reported month. This is a quite noisy series, to be sure. The absolute average month-over-month change is 4.4%.

The latest data point is the February count published by the BEA, which shows a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 17.0 million units, which is a 0.6% decrease from the previous month.

The first chart shows the series since 2007, which illustrates the dramatic impact of the Great Recession. The blue line smooths the volatility with a nine-month exponential moving average suggested by our friend Bob Bronson of Bronson Capital Markets Research. The moving average reduces the distortion of seasonal sales events (e.g., Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend) and thus helps us visualize the trend.

Here is the complete series data from 1976. We've added a linear regression (the red line) to further illustrate the direction of the long-term trend.

In the chart above, the latest moving average value is 3.1% below its record high in November 2005.

Here is the same chart with two key modifications:

  • We've created a per-capita version using

This article was written by

Doug Short profile picture
Advisor Perspectives is a leading interactive publisher for Registered Investment Advisors. Our AP Charts & Analysis portion of our website analyzes economic and market trends.

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Comments (4)

Well I live in an urban area. Lands are limited, roads are limited, but there are more and more people. Roads are super congested. People do not want to drive anymore for sure.
I worked for GM late 70’s early 80’s. Influx of Japanese imports with dramatically better reliability had significant impact. Whether a Toyota or a Chevy, cars last much longer today, and reliable 5-6 year old cars make the used car option realistic for many households. Speaking of households, with real income stagnant for decades new car transaction prices over $30K out of reach for many.
rwmorgan48 profile picture
wow, great perspective. Not good for auto stocks
It might be interesting to look at total registrations versus new car sales. The increase in reliability over those 30 years has been phenomenal. Is there another explanation? Also, we baby boomers are tending to drive less and buy less new cars now that we are retired.
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