With drivers staying home during the coronavirus pandemic, the average age of U.S. light vehicles is expected to accelerate an upward trend.
IHS Markit said in a report Tuesday that the average age of vehicles this year rose to 11.9 years, up about a month from an average age of 11.8 years in 2019. The study was based on a snapshot of vehicles in operation on Jan. 1.
The number of light vehicles in operation in the U.S. exceeded 280 million this year. That's an increase of 2 million, or roughly 1 percent, from last year. The number of vehicles 6 to 11 years old is expected to increase, while the number of vehicles 12 to 15 years old is expected to decrease as a result of lower volumes during the Great Recession.
IHS Markit began tracking vehicle age in 2002, when the average age was 9.6 years.
New-vehicle sales were already decreasing before the pandemic, representing 6.1 percent of vehicles in operation in 2019 from the record-setting 6.7 percent in 2016. The report said the coronavirus pandemic will accelerate that trend so that U.S. new-vehicle sales will make up 5 percent or less of all vehicles on the road in 2020.
Todd Campau, associate director of aftermarket solutions at IHS Markit, told Automotive News that the "X-factor" increasing average vehicle age will be the stay-at-home orders that permeated many states this spring.
"People are going to keep their vehicles because they don't know if they're going to be driving to work in the future, they don't know if they're going to be driving to work anytime soon even," he said. "If you're not accumulating the miles, you might keep that vehicle on the road a little longer."
The percentage of vehicles exiting the fleet, or the scrappage rate, has risen to 5.1 percent in 2019 from 4.6 percent during the record U.S. sales year of 2016.
But the lower new-vehicle U.S. sales last year offset the higher scrappage rates, resulting in the increased average age of the fleet, IHS Markit said.
The 2019 rate is comparable to the 2009 rate of 5.2 percent, which helped drive up average vehicle age by four months throughout the year.