Americans Scrapping More Cars Than They're Buying. But Is Demand Actually Building?

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
americans scrapping more cars than they re buying but is demand actually building

An RL Polk study, reported in the Detroit Free Press, reveals that Americans scrapped 1.2m more vehicles than they bought in the 15 months ending in September 2009. 14.8m vehicles were scrapped in that time period, compared to 13.6 new registrations, suggesting that new car sales could be heading towards an upswing. And with an average fleet age of 10.2 years (the highest in 14 years), common sense seems to indicate that the rebound should happen soon. Polk VP Lonnie Miller explains:

It foreshadows what may be pentup demand. The assumption is that those vehicles have to be replaced.

But is it that simple? Even Miller admits that a number of factors might cause scrappage to exceed new registration for the immediate future.

One factor that must be taken into account is that Polk’s survey included the months in which Cash for Clunkers spurred both sales and scrapping. Says Miller:

Cash-for-clunkers did assure a one-for-one replacement, but we just can’t assume that when those programs end. We may see scrappage exceed new vehicles sales at least through this year

Why is that? Miller points to improved quality, longer warranties and longer financing terms. Needless to say general economic uncertainty, high unemployment and sky-high debt all provide a backdrop for Americans finally listening to Steve Lang’s advice and driving the wheels of their old beaters. And as Miller points out, downsizing baby boomers mean their kids have a wealth of used cars to choose from. In short, the RL Polk sees new sales cresting 11.5m units this year, there’s no reason to believe that scrappages won’t outstrip those numbers. And until we’ve junked a huge number of the beaters plying America’s streets, there’s little reason to expect a roaring comeback in new retail sales.

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  • Mark MacInnis Mark MacInnis on Apr 01, 2010

    I drive a 13 year old Audi. My wife has a 10 year old Mitsu. Both running fine, thank you. No payments. Good mechanics who we trust. My wife doesn't work, so if my car ever fails me, hers is the back up, and vise versa. I'll probably buy a newer used car in two years for the daily (longish) commute. One thing that troubles me...if people with discernment only buy used, then the new car makers are marketing to those with no discernment. Will this trend, along with government domination of the auto industry, eventually lead to cars no discerning person will want? I keep my cars 7 years or so, as I will be retiring in about 15 years, I will be most likely making 3 to 5 more car purchases in my life (including 1 or perhaps 2 for my wife...). Living in a small, midwestern city with reasonable public transport(as long as our government doesn't screw that particular pooch), I won't be needing much in the way of transport after I retire....might even be in the market for an electric as my last purchase. My point is, like most boomers, we are nearing the phase of our lives where our vehicle needs will be minimized. So, I would expect that, as the generation which has defined American trends for the past 55 years, we will continue to define the automotive trend by our failure to buy in the near future, as much as we defined it by our buying habits in the past 30+ years....

  • FrankyJ FrankyJ on Apr 01, 2010

    I would say the vast majority of this is due to cash for clunkers. Things were absolutely crazy at that time. For nearly starters everybody who had a car that qualified for the program, traded their vehicle in. Now I was selling cars at this time, and not all these cars needed to be euthanized, but those were the rules. A lot of people were trading in 2 clunkers for one new car too. So I think this is why more cars are being scrapped right now than being built. Our Elizabethtown Ky used cars lot looks almost naked compared to what it use to look like. See for yourself at

  • Master Baiter "...but the driver must be ready to step in and take control. The system is authorized for use during the day but at speeds lower than 40 mph..."Translation: It's basically useless, and likely more stressful than piloting the car ones's self.
  • Alan My friend has a Toyota Kluger (made in 'murica). A Highlander. These things are based on a Camry platform. I have driven the Kluger we had at work and I find them quite boring even for a SUV. An appliance. I hope this will deliver some driving pleasure. I found the Camry a better boring vehicle.
  • Alan Most Lexii look good to reasonable.....................until you see the front ends with their awkward grilles. It actually would look normal on a GWM, LDV or any other Chinese vehicle.
  • Tassos These last months, every day seems to be another great, consequential piece of news for Tesla, who does not just DOMINATE, it OWNS the US and FREE WORLD BEV market.It is the ONLY (repeat ONLY) maker that builds its huge best sellers at a PROFIT, ie, SUSTAINABLY. FOrd EV is bleeding 3 billion in losses. GM hides theirs, and I bet they are even HIGHER. VW has spent a huge no of billions and its ID series has been an UTTER FAILURE.Toyota, already 12 years too late, is yet to try. I doubt they will succeed to dethrone TESLA.
  • Tassos Again: I never took VOlvo seriously in the last 20 or so years.Chinese Volvo-Geely has a dizzying number of models, I have lost count how many,YET its sales and market share in the US has always been DISMAL these last 20 years.It ranges from a pathetic 0.5% to 0.8% of the US market.For comparison, Toyota has 15% and GM has even more. Tesla has almost 10 TIMES VOlvo's share, with a PITTANCE of really TWO Models, the 3 and the Y, as the S and the X hardly sell any copies any more.So why do we keep reading articles about Stupid VOlvo?Because they have the best PR department of any maker.