Steven Szakaly, chief economist for the National Automobile Dealers Association, reiterated his forecast of 16.9 million U.S. light-vehicle sales in 2015 at the NADA convention in San Francisco.
Why does his prediction remain below 17 million, in contrast to several more-optimistic analysts? Szakaly cited a few trends:
- Telecommuting. In 1979, effectively nobody with a corporate job could work from home. Today, a little more than 2 percent of the population doesn't need a car to commute.
- Baby boomers -- who've been avid car buyers -- are aging out of the work force.
- More folks are using public transit. In 2007, 4.7 percent of Americans did. In 2013, that edged up to 5.3 percent. A 0.6-point gain may not seem like much, but consider the context, Szakaly said. In every economic downturn, more people decide to take the bus, just to save money. They go back to driving when the economy recovers. This time, though, even as the recovery gained steam, the number using public transit has stayed stable.
- Vehicle miles traveled continues to decline from a peak in 2004.
- Fewer new-car buyers. Just about 5 percent of the population will buy a new vehicle this year. If that rate was at the same level as in the 1970s, "we'd sell 19.5 million" this year, he said.
- Gen Y has been delaying marriage and childbearing -- one of the major drivers of vehicle purchase.
- In terms of young people's spending, "We're competing against student loans."