Driving into 2019

If you’re looking for a sense of what the industrialized nations are up to, automotive production data is always worth a glance. Saipan’s primary tourism markets have always been nations with strong car production: China, South Korea, and Japan.

So let’s talk cars. Who’s making them? Who’s driving them? How much are we paying for them? How long do they last?

Going with 2017 data from the International Association of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers, China was, by far, the most prolific producer of motor vehicles.

Of the 97.3 million vehicles produced globally, 29 million were made in China.

A distant second to China was the U.S. at 11.2 million vehicles. Japan was in third place at 9.7 million.

These top three producers jointly accounted for 51 percent of the world’s motor vehicle production. Incidentally, they’re also the world’s largest economies (U.S. is still No. 1; China is No. 2 and rising fast; and Japan is No. 3), jointly comprising 45 percent of the world’s economic output.

But South Korea, which is far less populous than the others I just mentioned, is no slouch either. This won’t surprise you if you’re one of the many people I know who drive a Hyundai or a Kia. Come to think of it, I know a retired General Motors engineer who owns two Kias. Anyway, South Korea’s production of 4.1 million vehicles was No. 6 globally (behind No. 5 India and No. 4 Germany).

I will note that we’re talking about the raw number of motor vehicles produced, not the dollar value of the vehicles. Digging further into this raw unit count, if we limit our scope to just passenger cars, we’ll note that there were 73.5 million produced in 2017. In other words, three out of four motor vehicles produced in the world were passenger cars, with the remaining quarter of the world’s 97.3 million vehicles being light-duty trucks, buses, heavy trucks, etc.

As of 2015, the world had about 1.3 billion vehicles in use. This amounted to roughly one vehicle for every 5.5 people on Earth.

The U.S., by contrast, famous for car culture, had almost one vehicle per person; well, that’s 0.8 vehicles per person if we want to sharpen our pencil. Although the CNMI wasn’t broken out in this tally, Guam was, and it tallied 0.7 vehicles per person.

Japan was around 0.6 vehicles per person, as was western Europe; South Korea was 0.4.

Looking towards the other end of the scale, the Philippines had, on an average basis, just one vehicle for every 26 people. And China, despite its prodigious rates of vehicle production, had just one vehicle for every eight people.

Of course, you don’t need me to tell you that cars can be an expensive game. Let’s look at some U.S. statistics.

Going from January, 2018 figures, the pricing experts at Kelly Blue Book (KBB.com) say the average new car (a category including pickup trucks and SUVs) cost $36,270. That was an increase of 3.9 percent from the prior year. At such a rate of increase we’d see average new car prices exceed $40,000 before the end of next year.

Today’s combination of mild gas prices and low interest rates helps sustain high demand for cars and, consequently, it keeps upwards pressure on car prices.

According to Forbes, the average term of a new car loan as of April of last year was 69.2 months (almost six years); the average amount financed was $30,032; and the average monthly payment was $503.

Many people opt for even longer-term loans. Data from other sources says that about one-quarter of car loans are for seven years.

Meanwhile, the longevity of autos has been climbing substantially. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average age of a household automobile in 2017 was 10.1 years, up from just 5.5 years in 1977. Household pickup trucks scored even higher longevity, with 2017 clocking in at 13.1 years on average, up from 1977’s average of 7.3 years. This is an intriguing development but I haven’t yet puzzled out what’s behind it.

Anyway, now that we’re caught up with the automotive world I wish you happy motoring, no matter which of the world’s 1,282,887,000 vehicles you happen to be driving.

Ed Stephens Jr. | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at EdStephensJr.com. His column runs every Friday.
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