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TheStreet Open House

Americans Buying Fewer New Cars in Lifetime




By Phil LeBeau, CNBC Correspondent

NEW YORK ( CNBC) -- Chalk another one up for the recession and how it has altered life in America. New analysis by the automotive research firm Polk shows Americans can now expect to buy fewer new cars during their lifetime.

On average we'll buy almost four fewer new cars by the time each of us hits 76 years old, the age when Polk believes most people are done buying new vehicles.

"The days when you bought a vehicle for 4 or 5 years are likely over," said Anthony Pratt, Polk Director of Forecasting.

How much have things changed since before the recession? Here is Pratt's analysis.

Avg. Number of New Cars Bought in Lifetime
Pre-recession: 13
Today 9.4

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Buying New, But Not As Often

We've talked for some time about Americans holding on to their new cars longer and the reasons have been well documented. Cars last longer and as their prices have gone up, people are less inclined to take on a monthly payment. Since the recession they have stretched out the length of time to pay off a new loan. In other words, people now expect to be in their car 6, 7, or 8 years after they buy it.

That's a dramatic change from a well-established rule in the auto industry. For years, automakers counted on Americans to buy, on average, a new car or truck every 3 or 4 years. Some of that was due to our vehicles starting to show their age sooner.

"When we were younger, we had to replace vehicles out of necessity. That's not the case anymore," Pratt said. "The vehicles are much better quality, they're lasting much longer, so really, there is no need to replace vehicles."

Fewer Chances For Automakers to Retain/Steal Customers

Since Americans are now forecast to buy fewer new vehicles in their lifetime, it means automakers will have fewer chances to steal customers.

The "conquest buy", when one brand converts a customer to switch from one brand to another brand has long been a crucial part of building sales and market share. This is how the Japanese automakers, and more recently, the Korean automakers gained market share in the U.S.

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