The Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) tracks quite a bit of
information on motor vehicles, though one has to be careful with
definitions. Total motor vehicle factory sales exclude imports in
some categories; sales of passenger vehicles may (or may not) include
light trucks (pickup trucks, SUVs, minivans). The most recent report
on transportation statistics is
Bureau of Transportation Statistics (U.S. Department of
"National Transportation Statistics 2001" (July, 2002)
1. The total car population?
According to the BTS, at the end of 1999, there were 132.4 million
passenger cars, 75.4 million light trucks (minivans, SUVs, pickup
trucks, etc.) for a total of 207.8 million vehicles. There were
another 4.2 million motorcycles.
This excludes heavy trucks and buses.
"Number of U.S. Aircraft, Vehicles" (July, 2002)
The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) has higher numbers,
using R.L. Polk registration data. These numbers include all
vehicles, even the commercial trucks excluded above. NADA also has
data by state:
1999: 209.5 million
2001: 216.7 million
"Vehicles in Operation and Scrappage" (undated)
2. How many are written off each year?
The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) has tracked numbers
for vehicles being "scrapped" for 10 years, with scrappage the last
two years running at 80% of new car sales:
2000: 14.3 million
2001: 14.1 million
"Vehicles in Operation and Scrappage" (undated)
3. How many are purchased with finance secured on the car?
According to CNW Market Research, one of the auto industry's leading
research companies, more than 91% of new car purchases involved
financing of some kind.
"Online Financing Grows in Popularity"
Of the new vehicle sales in 2000, 2.3 million or 18.4% of the 12.5
million were leased, according to the BTS. More recent estimates by
CNW Market Research put the lease estimates at 23-26% of new car
"Little Pull Ahead Caused by Zero Percent Financing" (2002)
4. How many repossessed?
The Credit Research Center at Georgetown University did a study in
1979 that put nationwide repossession rates for cars at 2.37 percent.
There doesn't seem to be readily available information to update this
number, though at least one commercial credit company, Credit
Concepts, reports similar numbers in its Annual Report/Form 10K.
Credit Research Center
"1979 Creditors Survey" (1980)
1999 Form 10-K
5. How many are serviced by the manufacturers dealership?
This is one of the harder numbers to find, as owners may choose to do
certain service (such as oil changes) at an independent service center
but insist on warranty work being done at the dealership. However,
NADA numbers indicate that the average U.S. car dealer sells 785
vehicles per year and writes 11,560 service orders each year.
6. How long the average car is kept with the same owner, from new?
It is generally agreed that new cars are kept an average of 5+ years.
The best statistical analysis available on the web seems to be a study
of the Salt Lake City market by the local newspapers. It shows that
53% of buyers expect to keep a car longer than 5 years; 42% longer
than 6 years. The statistical average in the survey was 5.5 years.
Newspaper Agency Corporation
"Motor Vehicles" (2002)
The University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute each
year does a forecast of trends in the auto industry called the Delphi
Forecast. Starting with 1996 forecasts, they have predicted increased
length of new vehicle ownership, though the data isn't apparent
University of Michigan
"Forecast and Analysis of the U.S. Automotive Industry" (2000)
7. How many new cars are sold?
Numbers vary with the economy, but the BTS figures in the most-recent
report have 5.5 million passenger cars being sold in 2000 and another
7.0 million pickups, SUVs, minivans and other vehicles under 10,000
pounds. The total motor vehicle sales for 2000 were 12.5 million with
an average price of $21,850.
These numbers include fleet sales. Retail car sales were 8.8 million:
"Retail New Car Sales" (July, 2002)
NADA numbers are far higher, in volume and average sale price, putting
2001 volumes at 17.1 million, with an average new vehicle sale price
of $25,800. NADA projections for 2002 were 16.8 million new vehicles
"The New Vehicle Department"
"NADA Raises Projections for 2002 Auto Sales" (Aug. 15, 2002)
8. How many used cars are sold?
There is general agreement that 41.6 million used cars were sold in
2000, with an average value of $8,715. NADA claims that new car
dealers sell a little more than half of the used cars:
"New and Used Passenger Car Sales and Leases"
Google search strategy:
transportation + statistics
"auto financing" + statistics + repossession
"new car" + "length of ownership"
Using Bureau of Transportation Statistics footnotes are helpful in
finding other trade and automotive data.
If any portion of this answer is unclear, please request a
clarification before rating the answer.
Clarification of Answer by
25 Jan 2003 09:02 PST
I spent some time looking for total loss rates for the insurance
industry, examining both accident losses and thefts. While there's a
fair amount of information on total value there doesn't seem to be
much on write-offs of vehicles.
However, a Canadian court case involving write-offs of vehicles may
give us some insight, as Canadian statistics are generally comparable
to those in the U.S. In the case, the insurance industry estimated
that 2 million vehicles had been written off in the past 27 years or
74,000/year. With Canada's population at 30 million and the U.S. at
250 million, this would correspond to a U.S. rate of writeoffs of
Koskie Minsky Solicitors
"Potential auto insurance refunds will cost everyone: IBC," Canadian
Press (March 25, 2002)
Among the places that I checked were:
* National Insurance Crime Bureau
* American Insurance Association
* Insurance Information Institute
* Insurance Research Council
* Society for Insurance Research
* A.M. Best
It is possible that the A.M. Best annual property/casualty review,
which is $200, would have the exact statistic that we're seeking. It
is likely to be available at a good business library near you.
Clarification of Answer by
27 Jan 2003 04:39 PST
After seeing the numbers from the Canadian Press -- which are for the
TOTAL loss claims -- I went through the same process as you, asking
myself "Is this a realistic number, considering accidents plus
In 1999, the FBI says that 1,147,305 cars were stolen. However, about
95% of the value of stolen cars is recovered, according to this
Michigan insurance report:
State of Michigan
"The Impact of Auto Theft Trends on Insurance Rates"
A rough estimate because "value" is used here rather than vehicle
count, would be that theft is contributing 57,000 cars to the
write-off category nationwide.
The same report notes that there are 6.8 million accidents yearly;
38,000 involve fatalities; 4.2 million are property damage only (no
U.S. Department of Transportation
Fatality Analysis Reporting System
Unfortunately for this question, National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration studies deal with severity of accidents by whether or
not there are fatalities, so it's difficult to come to any conclusion
to the extent of damage. In categorizing accidents by category, the
categories would seem to have the highest likelihood of total
write-off of the vehicle:
head-on collision: 138,000
collision with train: 3,000
"Traffic Safety Facts, 2000"
Does a derived number of 616,000 from Canadian insurance estimates
seem reasonable for the U.S.? Given these statistics, yes.