Auto Service World
Feature   December 1, 2011   by Andrew Ross

Editorial Comment The Greying Market

We are, all of us, getting older. And as we age, we are, it seems, tending to hang onto our vehicles longer—at least in the aggregate, even as many of us switch out the old for the new, or at least the newer. (I, for one, have never bought a new car.) And this realization doesn’t come just from me staring out my office window and counting the clunkers going by.

According to DesRosiers Automotive Consultants, while the total light-vehicle count on our Canadian roads rose by a scant 1.9% this year over last, and a total of some two million between 2007 and 2011, the real point of interest for me is the age distribution and what that might mean for the aftermarket.

“Due to the lower scrappage rates and the improved durability of newer vehicles, the average age of a light vehicle in Canada has increased by 0.31 years since 2007. Furthermore, the proportion of vehicles between eight and 12 years old relative to the total vehicle fleet has increased by 3.1 percentage points (or 11.9%) since 2007. This trend is expected to continue in the near future and will stand to benefit businesses that sell or service older vehicles,” says the venerable research firm in a recent report.

In my humble opinion, this creeping evolution can explain what is happening on a number of different fronts.

It helps explain, for example, why the demands for broader coverage are so acute. The extended age range of vehicles combines with a vehicle population that itself has exploded in variety. Dealing with older models from the ’90s was one thing when there were fewer new models being introduced each year. Through the 2000s, unprecedented growth in variants added to the variety and complexity for those who had to fix them and supply parts.

If you look back at the model counts—a statistic that is remarkably difficult to pin down—there were somewhere in the range of 700 being currently offered to Canadian buyers as 1998 model year vehicles. By 2004, there was something north of 900 being offered. And only one year later, that number was more than 1,000.

And at least some of this growth in models has occurred even as sales volumes have slipped. So, notwithstanding commonality of parts among models—often wearing different badges—the expected demand by part number has to drop. This is also why it may appear that you have greater demand for older vehicles: ball joint sales, for example, would be more focused on fewer part numbers, pushing those SKUs to the top of the list, while newer applications would exhibit a more fragmented demand profile across more SKUs.

And, since vehicles are being kept on the roads longer, this includes vehicles, models, and brands (Buick, anyone?) that have been retired by their automakers.

Of course, understanding how we got here is only part of the conversation. The real key is to know how to prosper in this environment.

One important realization is that there is no silver bullet. You can’t take just one product, price, or quality level approach. You may not be able to meet the needs and desires of every single customer—trade or consumer—but you certainly can’t expect them to select products according to your needs.

So wade carefully into this broadening market, select your targets carefully, and be relentless in pursuing those customer-centric approaches that yield loyalty and profit.

As I said at the outset, none of us are getting any younger, but most of us plan on being around for a few years yet. The right approaches will ensure that you get to leave at a time of your choosing, and not before.

—Andrew Ross, Publisher and Editor,

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