1. US auto exports. The US exported more than one million motor vehicles in 2012 (1,030,500) for the first time ever (see chart). Last year, auto exports rose by 13% to a new record high of 1,165,300 vehicles. During the first four months of this year at 404,700 vehicles, auto exports are 8.2% above the same period last year (374,200), and will likely set another annual record in 2014 of more than 1.2 million units. In 2009, the US exported only 455,700 vehicles, so the rebound by 2012 to more than one million vehicles is pretty impressive.
2. Which automaker in the US exports the most cars to markets outside North America? Hint: It’s not GM, Ford, Chrysler and it’s not Toyota or Honda. It’s BMW, which exports its US-made cars and SUVs to more than 140 countries from its single US plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina. That’s according to a recent profile by Bloomberg of BMW and its Spartanburg plant’s 20th anniversary. Bloomberg also reports that BMW exports more vehicles from Spartanburg to markets outside North America than all of the automotive facilities combined in the entire state of Michigan. Here are some more interesting facts from the Bloomberg article:
- BMW plans to increase capacity in Spartanburg by 50%, from 300,000 vehicles a year currently to 450,000 within a few years.
- Pushed by spiraling energy costs and tightening labor rules in Germany, Munich-based BMW will have poured $7.3 billion into the site once the latest expansion is completed in two years.
- Auto workers in the U.S. are about 47% cheaper to employ than their counterparts in Germany.
- Almost all of BMW’s SUVs, including the new top-of-the-line X7, are made in Spartanburg, and 70% are exported to more than 140 countries from what was BMW’s first test of full-scale auto production outside Germany.
3. Motor Vehicle Assemblies. According to the Federal Reserve, motor vehicle assemblies in the US in May at 11.74 million units were the highest since April 2006, more than eight years ago, and almost three times higher than the recession-driven low of fewer than 4 million units in January 2009 (see chart above). June assemblies (11.65 million units) declined slightly from May, but were up by almost 4% on a year-over-year basis, and were up by almost 2.5% compared to June 2007 in the summer before the Great Recession.
4. Motor Vehicle and Parts Production. The Federal Reserve also reported last week that its index measure of total manufacturing activity related to the production of motor vehicles and parts increased to a new record high in June, and was above last year’s level in June by almost 7% (see chart above).
5. Truck Market Share. The chart above shows the increasing trend over time going back to 1955 of truck sales as a share of total auto sales according to data from Wards Auto. In 1955, fewer than one out of every eight new vehicles sold was a truck (11.96%), but by 1978 the market share of trucks went above 25% for the first time, by 1989 more than one out of every three new vehicles was a truck, and in 1999 the market share of trucks went above 50% for the first time. The peak market share for trucks was reached in 2004 at 56.7%, before falling below 50% in 2008 and 2009, likely due to the effects of the recession. Since the recovery started, truck market share has been back above 50% and was 52.2% last year.
6. Big 3 Market Share. The chart above also features data from Wards Auto and displays the annual US market share of the Big Three (GM, Ford, and Chrysler), which peaked at 90.6% in 1965, fell below 75% for the first time in 1980, below two-thirds market share for the first time in 2000 and below 50% for the first time in 2008. Last year, the Big 3 market share was 44.6%.
7. American-Made Index (AMI). The graphic above displays the results of the 2014 American-Made Index from Cars.com, showing that Japanese-based automakers Toyota and Honda captured 7 of the top 10 spots for the most “American-made cars.” In the three previous years’ rankings (2011, 2012 and 2013), Honda and Toyota had 5 of the top 10 spots and shared the Top Ten most American-made vehicles equally with the Big Three. Some interesting commentary from Cars.com:
Only these 10 cars [above in the list] were eligible for the AMI, the fewest in the study’s nine-year history. For the 2014 model year, just 13 models assembled in the U.S. have domestic-parts content of 75% or higher, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but three of those, including the Avenger, were disqualified because they’re being discontinued. In the 2013 model year, 14 cars met that threshold. Twenty cars met the threshold in the 2012 model year, and 30 cars met it a year before that.
More evidence (along with items #1, #2 and #7 above) that the automotive industry has become increasingly globalized to the point that the distinction between an “American” and “foreign” car has become more and more meaningless, as has the importance of to what degree a car is “American-made.” Hopefully, most consumers are now buying cars based on value, price, service and quality, and aren’t discriminating based on a car’s “national origin” – which doesn’t mean much any more.
8. New Car Prices vs Overall CPI. Finally, the last chart above shows the CPI for All Items (blue line) and the CPI for New Vehicles (brown line), annually from 1982 to 2013. As can be seen, the overall price level has risen more than 141% compared to less than a 50% increase in the CPI for new vehicles. For the last 20 years starting around 1994, the CPI measurement for the cost of new vehicles (adjusted for quality, options, safety, fuel economy, durability, carrying capacity, comfort and reliability) has remained flat during a period when overall consumer prices have increased 57.2% (and average hourly wages by 82%).
Bottom Line: As I’ve commented before, I don’t think there has ever been a better time to own or buy a car than today, considering all of the factors that are important to consumers: price, value, safety, quality, durability, comfort, options, selection, warranty coverage, etc. And probably the main reason that car buyers have it so good today: international competition and the increasing globalization of the marketplace for new vehicles. I’ve also said before that “competition breeds competence,” and I don’t think there’s any doubt that intense global competition has bred much, much greater competence into America’s auto industry. We’re all much better off today as consumers compared to past periods when the Big 3 enjoyed a 90% market share, and the UAW enjoyed an ever bigger share — 100% — of the US autoworker market!