Vehicle Sales Per Capita as of January 2023
This article was originally written by Doug Short. From 2016-2022, it was improved upon and updated by Jill Mislinski. Starting in January 2023, AP Charts pages will be maintained by Jennifer Nash at Advisor Perspectives/VettaFi.
Note: The charts below have been updated to include the latest report on U.S. vehicle sales from the BEA.
For the past few years, we've been following a couple of transportation metrics: Vehicle Miles Traveled and Gasoline Volume Sales. The latter's updates have been discontinued as of 2022 as the last published data from the EIA for gasoline volume sales was March 2022, with no update on the next release date. For both series, we focus on the population-adjusted data. Let's now do something similar with the vehicle sales report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. This data series stretches back to January 1976 and for heavy trucks, since 1967. Since that first data point, the civilian non-institutional population age 16 and over (i.e., driving age, not in the military, or an inmate) has risen about 59.5%.
Here is a chart, courtesy of the FRED repository, of the raw data for the seasonally adjusted annualized number of new vehicles sold domestically in the reported month. This is a quite noisy series - the absolute average month-over-month change is 4.4%.
The latest data point is the January count published by the BEA in its monthly auto and truck seasonal adjustment report, which shows a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 15.7 million units, which is a 17.7% increase from the previous month's figure from the BEA.
The first chart shows the series since 2007, which illustrates the dramatic impact of the great recession. The blue line smooths the volatility with a nine-month exponential moving average suggested by our friend Bob Bronson of Bronson Capital Markets Research. The moving average reduces the distortion of seasonal sales events (e.g., Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend) and thus helps us visualize the trend.