This line chart (from the St. Louis Fed website) is one I’ve looked at many times. It tells an interesting story.
It shows monthly new car sales volume in the US going all the back to Jan 1976. Along the horizontal x-axis we have the monthly time series beginning Jan 1976 on the left moving through time until the present with last month’s car sales on the far right. Along the vertical y-axis we see new car sales volume in millions. In Jan 1976 the annual rate of new car sales, seasonally adjusted, was approximately 12.8 million. More generally, car makers were selling about 14-15 million units annually during the late 1970s. Last month, Jul 2019, the seasonally adjusted annual rate was approximately 17.3 million units, which is about where it’s been for the past 5 years. It’s been a roller coaster ride but for the domestic automotive industry volume is only up 15-20% over more than 40 years. Thankfully for the industry global growth has more than made up for relatively stagnant domestic sales.
The line chart includes shaded areas corresponding to economic recessions. You can see the dual stagflation recessions in 1980 and 1981-1982. You can see the recession in the early 1990s coming on the heels of the S&L Crisis. You can see the 2001 recession following the bursting of the Tech Bubble and you can see the recent Great Recession of 2008-2009 following the collapse of the housing and mortgage markets. Obviously, recessions aren’t great for new car sales. Usually, sales volumes decrease; sometimes they drop precipitously. It’s hard to miss the way new car sales fell off a cliff in 2009.
How is this relevant a decade later? In the Automotive Aftermarket it’s extraordinarily relevant because the “sweet spot” for automotive parts suppliers, distributors and retailers is about 10 years, more or less depending on the part category. So, while most of the economy has moved past the calamity of 2008-2009 recession, the Aftermarket is still dealing with the fallout. On the flip side, during the next decade the US aftermarket industry should experience growth mirroring the upward slope we see between 2010 and 2014. For investors or entrepreneurs looking for a silver lining in recent market volatility and increasing fears of a recession, the automotive aftermarket could provide a nice counter-cyclical investment opportunity.