U.S. Vehicles Maintain a Record High Lifespan, Buyers More Skeptical
The automobile industry claims that it is building vehicles with increased reliability and durability, but BuyingAdvice.com readers seem somewhat skeptical of their claims.
According to a recent industry report released in 2007, the median lifespan of a passenger car in the United States is 9.2 years, which is almost a year longer than ten years ago. New studies have now shown that the average vehicle lifespan in the United States is up to 10.8 years, which is a record high compared to studies conducted during 2010, which was 10.6 years. Worries about the fiscal crisis and job security prevented many people from making expensive purchases, such as buying a new car.
Economic factors aside, this is also proof that vehicle lifespan, durability, and reliability improves with each new succeeding model. Dave Goebel, a consultant for R.L. Polk & Co who conducted the reliability study says, “This is more evidence that vehicle engineering and durability continues to improve with each new model year.”
But how convinced are car buyers that this is the case? BuyingAdvice.com asked new car buyers if they considered today’s vehicles to have more or less durability than those built in the past. Only just over half of those questioned, 53 percent, said that they believed that modern vehicles were more durable. Of the rest, 25 percent perceived no difference, while 22 percent said that modern vehicles had lower durability.
Despite some skepticism around whether longevity has improved recently, the poll showed that the majority of buyers expect their vehicles to be on the road for ten years or more. Thirty-six percent said they expect a vehicle to last at least ten years, a further 14 percent said a minimum of 15 years, and 7 percent said they expect their vehicles to be on the road over 20 years.
But, the Polk study shows a marked difference in the lifespan of passenger cars and light trucks. According to R.L. Polk’s data, trucks having a median durability of 6.9 years, marginally up from the year before, but over 2 years less than passenger cars. Polk explains that some of this difference has resulted from more drivers switching to SUV’s and more models being introduced into the light truck category, but it still falls well short of most buyer’s expectations.
“The median age of trucks continues to be lower than cars, due in part to the increased variety of light trucks and SUVs available in the market over the last five years,” said Mike Gingell, vice president of Polk’s Aftermarket team. “However, the increase in median age for light trucks in 2006 suggests light truck owners are driving their vehicles longer before considering or switching to a car. We anticipate light trucks to continue making up a larger percentage of the vehicle population.”
Durability and reliability are two key areas for manufacturers as they seek to maintain or increase their market share. It was the reliability of Honda and Toyota products that was often cited as the main reason for their ability to rise to prominence in the U.S. car market and maintain their dominance over domestic manufacturers.
When asked to name the manufacturers that they thought produced the vehicles with greatest longevity, 39 percent of the BuyingAdvice.com sample chose Toyota and 27 percent chose Honda. Ford was the highest rated domestic manufacturer with 12 percent, but only 9 percent of those polled chose Toyota’s premium brand, Lexus, which rated lower than luxury rival BMW who claimed 11 percent.
“Automakers may reap numerous benefits from producing dependable vehicles-not only in higher residual values, decreased warranty costs and opportunities for remarketing their vehicles, but also in higher customer satisfaction and increased likelihood of customers recommending or purchasing newer dependable models,” said Neal Oddes, director of product research and analysis for J.D. Power and Associates, who publishes dependability data on an annual basis.
Good news for domestic manufacturers was the appearance of the Buick brand in J.D. Power’s three year dependability winners. Buick tied with Lexus for the top spot, which marked the first time in 12 years that another brand had tied with the Toyota luxury brand in the study. Domestic brand Lincoln and Cadillac also made J.D. Power’s top five for dependability after three years.
J.D. Power claims that three year dependability relates directly to longer-term dependability and reliability.
“This is why it is especially important for automakers to successfully launch new vehicle models with high initial quality and appeal-models that perform well in these regards tend to exhibit particularly strong dependability later in their life cycle,” says Oddes.
There is another direct benefit to the consumer of a vehicle with strong dependability, according to J.D. Power. Their data shows that vehicles with high dependability scores can depreciate up to 15 percent less in the average. That would be over $2,000 on a three year-old Scion xD compared to the industry average.
However, the majority of buyers expect to own their cars at least five years. Sixty-one percent of respondents to the BuyingAdvice.com poll said they would own their car over five years, with 32 percent expecting to change cars within three to five years and fewer than 7 percent selling their new vehicle in less than 3 years.
The sample for the BuyingAdvice.com survey was taken from over 3,000 users of the site’s price quote service. Each participant stated they were within 30 days of buying a new vehicle.