Analysis: What new car sales really mean for the aftermarket

by | Jan 26, 2023 | 0 comments

Well, the jury is no longer out on whether car sales in Canada would rebound in 2022. With the supply chain issues continuing and interest rate impacts piling on, new light vehicle sales in Canada showed no signs of recovery. This is good for the aftermarket, right?

Yes, generally, this is regarded as a good thing for the automotive aftermarket, and it is, but there’s more to the story in the short term and the long-term.

Andrew Ross
Andrew Ross
Publisher and Director of Content

According to DesRosiers Automotive Consultants, manufacturers reported a 9.1% decrease in new light vehicle sales in 2022. There were some wide regional variations, with Nova Scotia down 16%, Newfoundland a tick less at 15.7%. Only three provinces saw a drop less than the national average: Ontario, 6.5%, Saskatchewan 4.1% and Alberta 8.4%.

In total, there were “only” 1.49 million new light vehicles sold in 2022, down from 1.64 million in 2021. That 2021 total was up 6.6% from 2020, but as noted that upward trend did not continue. And, in any case, all these numbers represent a significant pullback from 2017, when more than 2 million were sold.

The reasons for this are manifold, everything from economic uncertainty, interest rates, supply chain constraints and, lest we forget, the pandemic.

In the short term, the dip in sales is evidence that some of the car owners who would have purchased new vehicles, and presumably sold or traded their existing vehicle, have decided not to or have simply not been able to buy a vehicle because of supply constraints.

So, they keep driving what they have.

Also, new drivers who may have otherwise purchased new have gone to the used market. In all these cases, older vehicles have stayed on the road, allowing aftermarket shops to retain those service customers, and probably gain a few new ones driving used cars.

It is hard to look at the new vehicle sales market, and even the strong used car market, and not see it as net positives building on net positives for the aftermarket.

And that’s what virtually every short- and near-term forecast predicts: a robust aftermarket ahead.

It’s hard to disagree. A big mover for the aftermarket is vehicles moving into their prime aftermarket years, generally taken to be 7 to 11 years old, though more and more that’s trending to older vehicles. Remember that 2017 record sales year? Those vehicles are poised to enter the sweet spot for the aftermarket soon. Again, good news for the aftermarket.

But with every wave comes a trough and in the longer term today’s sales shortfalls will affect the aftermarket as we see fewer vehicles entering the prime aftermarket service years.

Under normal circumstances it would be a fairly safe prediction that the aftermarket would see a drop in demand with fewer vehicles entering the prime aftermarket years while the “big wave” of vehicles was moving into the DIY sector.

But normal circumstances to not lie ahead. With a tightening of mandates on manufactures to sell more and more EVs and hybrids as a proportion of sales, it’s likely that a significant portion of the car parc will be retained longer than average. It is also likely that car buyers will pull forward their decisions on the eve of the tightest restrictions looming at the end of this decade and into 2035, which is a broadly being adopted as the deadline for manufacturers to make the move away for ICE-only vehicles.

And, if that comes to fruition, it would provide for another wave, or at least wavelet in the mid to second part of the next decade.

What this all means together is that over the next decade and a half we can expect a strong aftermarket, with a possible dip in middle or at least a flattening of growth, around 2030.

The danger here is that this might be mistakenly attributed to EV related trends, when it’s really a consequence of new car sales happening today.

The aftermarket has the great benefit of being able to see its future. You don’t need a crystal ball.

The aftermarket’s future is—positive and negative—largely the result of what is happening, or not happening, on the new car lots today.

And that’s as true at the local level as it is at regional and national scope. If your local dealers can’t get vehicles, or certain vehicles, to sell, those vehicles won’t be on the road for you to fix in years to come. It sounds obvious, but looking at what is selling will tell you just about everything you need to know about how you should be investing in your training, tools, and other resources for the continued success of your business.


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