The average age of cars on the road is an fascinating statistic for a lot of reasons. For one, it provides an interesting way of looking at the economy. If the economy is good, more people buy newer cars and the average drops. If it's bad, then it goes the other way.
Obviously, there are way more contributing factors to how long people keep their vehicles than just the state of the economy, but it's perhaps telling that the average age of vehicles is at its highest point -- 11.8 years -- since that figure started being tracked in the early 2000s, according to a report released on Thursday by IHS Markit.
The great recession had a huge role in boosting the average age of vehicles, and that makes sense. If you're newly out of work and your retirement plan has evaporated, you're probably much more likely to keep driving your 10-year-old Accord or Tahoe.
While economics is one part of the equation, geography plays another significant role. Car ages in the West are significantly higher than in any other part of the country. This would seem to have a lot to do with rust and the toll that harsh weather conditions can take on a car. The current average for vehicles in the Western US is 12.4 years -- significantly higher than the 10.9 years of vehicles from the Northeast.
Another super-interesting figure that IHS Markit's report called out was the increase in the numbers of light vehicles on the road as a whole. According to its research, there are now around 278 million cars, SUVs and light trucks on the road today. That number is up by nearly six million vehicles from 2018. To put that in perspective, the US has a current population of around 330 million people.
What does this mean for the US auto industry? Well, if you're a manufacturer, it's not great., particularly among the non-truck and SUV segments of the market. This is borne out in IHS' research as well. The average age of trucks and SUVs increased by 0.4%, while passenger cars increased by 2.2% from 2018 to 2019.