New Study Finds Americans Keeping Their New and Used Vehicles Longer

American motorists are hanging onto their vehicles longer than ever before according to a new research study conducted by the Polk research firm. The study, which was conducted last September, found that on average U.S. consumers were keeping their autos for 71.4 months, or nearly six years. The same study conducted in March of 2011, found that motorists were trading in their vehicles 4.7 months sooner on average.

Polk attributes the increased length of ownership to high unemployment, uncertainty about the U.S. economy and the growing reliability of new vehicles.

In a statement, Polk’s global aftermarket practice leader Mark Seng said, “Unemployment rates continue to be high and we expect many consumers will suffer from lingering effects of the downturn, further contributing to longer ownership trends.”

In an interview, Seng said the change in vehicle buying habits opens up new opportunities for manufacturers. “Traditionally,” said Seng, “most older vehicle repairs go to the independent aftermarket but this is an opportunity for manufacturers to get in on that as well.”

The survey also found that buyers of used vehicles also held onto their purchases longer. According to the September study, owners of pre-owned vehicles held onto their autos 49.9 months on average, up from 47.5 months in the March study.

Polk said the combined length of ownership for new and used vehicles last September was 57 months, up 3.1 months compared with the March study.

Polk began conducting its biannual length of ownership studies in 2001 and draws its conclusions based on vehicle registration data.

Polk found that the overall length of light vehicle ownership in the U.S. has risen 23 percent since the economic crisis began in late 2008.

The following year, in 2009, U.S. sales of light vehicles fell to 10.4 million units. For most of the previous decade, sales had remained above 16 million units. Although sales have rebounded in the last two years, Polk predicts that the auto industry will not reach the 16 million unit mark until 2015 at the earliest.  U.S. sales rose to 10.4 million units in 2010 and increased to 12.8 million units in 2011.

Last month Polk released a separate study which found that the average age of light vehicles on America’s roads reached an all-time high of 10.8 years in 2011.

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