Monthly car sales may have reached their highest levels in recent years, but total vehicle use — the combined miles people drive — plummeted during the Great Recession and have remained relatively flat since. This week, however, the Federal Highway Administration reported that vehicle miles traveled in the first half of the year have modestly declined again.
The average mileage of individual drivers peaked in July 2004 at slightly more than 900 miles per month, and was down to about 820 miles in July 2012, according to a study from economists in the Transportation Department.
People shopping more online, using public transportation more frequently, and the rapid drop of teens and people in their 20s and 30s who have driver’s licenses all come into play to affect the way consumers view cars today. Having a car no longer means freedom or fun like it used to. I mean, when was the last time a car was lionized in the manner of songs like “Mustang Sally,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” or “409?”
Perhaps we’ll see a change in total vehicle use numbers this Labor Day weekend. AAA anticipates that 34.1 million people will travel 50 miles or more, a 4.2% year-over-year increase from last year’s 32.7 million travelers for the highest level since the recession. AAA also forecasted that 85% (29.2 million) of those travelers will do so by car.
We should definitely see an impact on auto sales from manufacturers’ Labor Day sales incentives. And, because an early Labor Day means that sales through Tuesday, Sept. 3, count toward this month’s sales, I wouldn’t be surprised if the SAAR dips slightly next month. Hopefully I’ll be wrong — let’s see what happens.
Happy Labor Day, everyone!