The United States is home to the largest passenger vehicle market of any country, which is a consequence of the fact that it has the largest Gross Domestic Product of any country in the world. Overall, there were an estimated 247,421,120 registered passenger vehicles in the United States according to a 2005 DOT study. This number, along with the average age of vehicles, has increased steadily since 1960, indicating a growing number of vehicles per capita. The United States is also home to three of the world’s largest vehicle manufacturers, which are commonly referred to as the “Big Three.” The motor car has become an integral part of American life, with vehicles outnumbering licensed drivers.
A typical American car dealership in Fremont, California. Between 2002 and 2003 alone the number of vehicles in the United States increased by three million.
The United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration as well as the National Automobile Dealers Association have published data in regard to the total number of vehicles, growth trends, and ratios between licensed drivers, the general population, and the increasing number of vehicles on American roads. Overall passenger vehicles have been outnumbering licensed drivers since 1972 at an ever increasing rate, while light trucks and vehicles manufactured by foreign marques have gained a larger share of the automotive market in the United States. In 2001, 90% of Americans drove to work in cars. New York City is the only locality in the country where more than half of all households do not own a car (the figure is even higher in Manhattan, over 75%; nationally, the rate is 8%).
According to the US Bureau of Transit Statistics for 2004 there are 243,023,485 registered passenger vehicles in the US. Out of these roughly 243 million vehicles, 136,430,651 (56.13%) were classified as cars, while 91,845,327 (37.79%) were classified as “Other 2 axle, 4 tire vehicles,” presumably SUVs and pick-up trucks. Yet another 6,161,028 (2.53%) were classified as vehicles with 2 axles and 6 tires and 2,010,335 (0.82%) were classified as “Truck, combination.” There were approximately 5,780,870 motorcycles in the US in 2004, which accounts for 2.37% of all registered passenger vehicles.
According to cumulative data by the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) the number of motor vehicles has also increased steadily since 1960, only stagnating once in 1997 and declining from 1990 to 1991. Otherwise the number of motor vehicles has been rising by an estimated 3.69 million each year since 1960 with the largest annual growth between 1998 and 1999 as well as between 2000 and 2001 when the number of motor vehicles in the United States increased by eight million. Since the study by the FHA the number of vehicles has increased by approximately eleven million, one of the largest recorded increases. The largest percentage increase was between the years of 1972 and 1973 when the number of cars increased by 5.88%.
Age of vehicles in operation
In the year 2001, the National Automobile Dealers Association conducted a study revealing the average age of vehicles in operation in the US. The study found that of vehicles in operation in the US, 38.3% were older than ten years, 22.3% were between seven and ten years old, 25.8% were between three and six years old and 13.5% were less than two years old. According to this study the majority of vehicles, 60.6%, of vehicles were older than seven years in 2001. This relatively high age of automobiles in the US might be explained through gradually declining sales figures since 1998.
The median and mean age of automobiles has steadily increased since 1969. In 2005 the overall median age for automobiles was 8.9 years, a significant increase over 1990 when the median age of vehicles in operation in the US was 6.5 years and 1969 when the mean age for automobiles was 5.1 years. Of all body styles, pick-up trucks had the highest mean age (9.4 years), followed by cars with a mean age of 8.4 years and van with a mean age of 7.0 years. As SUVs are part of a relatively new consumer trend originating mostly in the 1990s, SUVs had the lowest mean age of any body style in the US (6.1 years). The average recreational vehicle was even older with a mean age of 12.5. The mean age has increased continuously for all body styles from 1969 to 2005.
In the year 2004, 7,505,932 passengers cars were sold in the United States according to the US Department of Transportation. This figure “Includes domestic and imported vehicles.” (Department of Transportation) The number of vehicles sold in the US has been decreasing at a gradual yet continuous rate since 1999, when nearly 8.7 million vehicles were sold in the US. Looking back at history however, reveals that such decline is only part of normal market trends and most likely only a temporary affair. Overall, 1985 was a record year with cars sales totaling just over eleven million. While imports have been gaining ground in terms of units sold during the 2000s and have regained roughly the same market share they held in 1992, the sales of domestic vehicles are still more than double those of imported vehicles. It should be noted however that the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics “Includes cars produced in Canada and Mexico” as domestic vehicles as both countries are part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In 2004 the sales of vehicles made in NAFTA states totaled 5.4 million, while the sale of imported vehicles totaled 2.1 million. 798,000 vehicles were imported from Japan, making it the greatest exporter of vehicles to the US. Germany was the second largest exporter of vehicles to the US, with 542,000 units exported to the US in 2004. Imports from all other nations, except Germany and Japan, totaled 809,000.
Full-size SUVs such as the Chevrolet Suburban had an average sticker price of $42k, but were sold for an average 22% discount, bringing the net price down to $33k. Overall, large non-luxury SUVs featured the largest discounts in the SUV segment (Edmunds.com).
In July 2004, Edmunds.com published a report stating that the average sticker price on a vehicle sold in the United States was $29,746. However, in the US, passenger vehicles are commonly sold at considerable discounts and customers rarely pay the sticker price or MSRP (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price). The discount is commonly determined by the company’s marketing strategies and tends to be larger the slower selling a vehicle is. Due to what many American consumers have perceived as a declining quality among the automobiles manufactured by the “Big Three” and large fixed labor and capital costs, discounts tend to be larger on domestic vehicles. In 2003 the average discount on a domestic vehicle was 20.6% below MSRP. For Japanese and Korean vehicles the average discount was 10% and 12.8%. The lowest discounts were given on vehicles from European manufacturers, where the average discount was 7.7% below MSRP. Overall, the average discount in July 2004 was $4,982 (16.8%), meaning that while the average MSRP was almost $30,000, the average buyer of a new car paid only $24,764. Dr. Jane Liu, the Vice President of Data Analysis for Edmunds.com further stated that, “New models are being introduced at higher price points, but the competitiveness of the market is dramatically pushing down net prices, resulting in a record average discount.” The lowest discounts among all car segments were given on luxury SUVs, where buyers received an average 10% discount, resulting in a $43,725 net price, versus the sticker price of $48,586.
A Hummer H2, with an estimated fuel economy of 9 miles per gallon, is often criticized by environmentalist groups for its abysmal fuel economy.
A Toyota Prius Hybrid, features an EPA fuel economy rating of 55 miles per gallon (45% above national average). It was recently named the most fuel efficient vehicle in the United States by the Sierra Club, and has been cited as an example by environmentalists and celebrities to make a statement in favor of more fuel efficient vehicles.
The American automobile industry became notorious for the manufacture of gas guzzlers during the 1960s and 1970s when fuel prices and consumer awareness concerning fuel economy were at an all-time low. In the 1960s and 1970s, American-made cars took on enormous proportions as consumers placed their emphasis on comfort, power and style. Large sedans from this era came to be known as land yachts, often rivaling today’s largest pick-up trucks in terms of length and width. In 1977, the Lincoln Continental Mark V was reviewed by the German automobile magazine, auto motor und sport and still holds the record for the worst fuel economy of any vehicle ever tested by the magazine with an average of seven miles to the gallon.
Following the oil crisis of the early 1970s, however, smaller vehicles, often imported from Japan, became more and more popular with the American public as these vehicles featured better fuel economy ratings. In the late 1970s, the US government passed minimum fuel economy standards and in the 1980s American automobile manufacturers drastically downsized their cars, only a few vehicles, such as those using the Ford Panther platform retained their over-sized glory. The downsizing did, however, backfire in some cases. After downsizing nearly the entire Cadillac line-up in the late 1980s, General Motors scrambled to save its most prestigious marques. Many American manufacturers again increased the size of their vehicles in the 1990s, while better technology allowed for better fuel economy ratings among sedans.
According to the United States Department of Transportation, the average motor vehicle, including light trucks, in the US had a fuel economy rating of 17.1 miles a gallon or 13.8 liters per 100 kilometers. The average fuel economy for passenger vehicles in the United States has remained stagnant throughout the 1990s and 2000s, peaking in 2001 and 2004. Overall, the past decade has seen the slowest increase in fuel economy since 1960, with fuel economy increasing from 16.4 miles a gallon in 1990 to 17.1 miles a gallon today. This is in contrast to the 1980s when the average fuel economy improved somewhat more significantly from 13.3 miles a gallon in 1980 to 16.4 miles a gallon in 1990. The lackluster increase in fuel economy during the 1990s is largely due to the rising popularity of Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs), whose status as light trucks gains them exception from the fuel economy restrictions placed on sedans and other cars. According to the Sierra Club “In 1997 all three US automakers violated CAFE standards for light trucks.” The Sierra Club is one of many environmental organizations who warn of the low fuel economy of SUV and hold these vehicles largely responsible for the low average fuel economy of vehicles in the United States.
Average fuel economy in miles per gallon according to the US Department of Transportation.
Year 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
MPG 12.4 12.5 12.0 12.2 13.3 14.6 16.4 16.9 16.9 16.7 16.7 16.8 16.9 17.0 16.9 16.7 16.9 17.1 16.9 17.0 17.1
L/100 km 19.0 18.8 19.6 19.3 17.7 16.1 14.3 13.9 13.9 14.1 14.1 14.0 13.9 13.8 13.9 14.1 13.9 13.7 13.9 13.8 13.7
Vehicle and population ratios since 1960
Year Population Drivers Motor
in vehicles % Growth
1960 180 87 74 N/A N/A
1961 183 89 76 2 +2.72
1962 186 91 79 2 +2.63
1963 188 94 83 3 +3.79
1964 191 95 86 3 +3.61
1965 194 99 90 4 +4.65
1966 196 101 94 4 +4.44
1967 197 103 97 3 +3.19
1968 199 105 101 4 +4.12
1969 201 108 105 4 +3.96
1970 204 112 108 3 +2.85
1971 207 114 113 5 +4.62
1972 209 118 119 6 +5.30
1973 211 122 126 7 +5.88
1974 213 125 130 4 +3.17
1975 215 130 133 3 +2.30
1976 218 134 139 6 +4.51
1977 220 138 142 3 +2.15
1978 222 141 148 6 +4.22
1979 225 143 152 4 +2.70
1980 227 145 156 4 +2.63
1981 230 147 158 2 +1.28
1982 232 150 160 2 +1.26
1983 234 154 164 4 +2.50
1984 236 155 166 2 +1.21
1985 239 157 172 6 +3.61
1986 241 159 176 4 +2.32
1987 243 161 179 3 +1.70
1988 246 163 184 5 +2.79
1989 248 166 187 3 +1.63
1990 248 167 189 2 +1.01
1991 252 169 188 -1 -0.52
1992 255 173 190 2 +1.06
1993 258 173 194 4 +2.10
1994 260 175 198 4 +2.06
1995 263 177 202 4 +2.02
1996 265 180 206 4 +1.98
1997 268 183 208 4 +1.94
1998 270 185 208 0 +/-0
1999 273 187 216 8 +3.84
2000 281 191 218 2 +0.92
2001 281 191 226 8 +3.66
2002 288 195 230 4 +1.76
2003 291 196 231 1 +0.43
All numbers in millions;
SOURCE: US Department of Transportation
Since 1960, the number of passenger vehicles has steadily risen, and since 1972 has exceeded the number of licensed drivers. Considering the population in the United States of 293,655,404 during the 2004 economic survey, there is one passenger vehicles for every 1.20 persons in the United States, meaning that there are 833.34 passenger vehicles for every 1,000 Americans. According to the Federal Highway Administration there were an estimated 196 million licensed drivers in the United States in the year 2003. Considering the slightly lower number of motor vehicles for 2003, there were an estimated 1.17 motor vehicles per licensed driver, meaning that there are more vehicles than drivers in the US, with vehicles outnumbering drivers 1.2 to one.
The number of motor vehicles in the US has risen by 157 million (212.16%) since 1960, while the population of licensed drivers grew by 109 million (125.28%). Between 1971 and 1972, the number of motor vehicles in the US increased by four million, a record at the time. Since then, the gap between the number of cars and drivers has continuously risen. While in 1972 there were only one million more motor vehicles than drivers, cars outnumber drivers by 35 million in 2003. This means that while there were 0.84% more motor vehicles than drivers in 1972, there are now 17.85% more vehicles than drivers.
Body style and size
Mainstream mid-size sedans such as the Toyota Camry or Ford Taurus are often perceived to be the typical and most common body style in the United States. While mid-size sedans are indeed among the country’s best selling vehicles, pick-up trucks currently hold the top positions, rivaling sedans in the terms of total numbers sold. In the year 2006, the best selling models were the Ford F Series with 796,039 units sold and the Chevrolet Silverado with 636,069 units sold. The Toyota Camry, Dodge Ram, and Honda Accord held the next three positions as the best selling cars
The Mercury Milan, despite being manufactured in Mexico, is still considered a domestic vehicle.
The Saab 9-7X, despite being manufactured in the US by GM, is still considered an import vehicle.
The US was the largest producer of vehicles in the world in 2003, followed by Japan and Germany. While most vehicles sold in the US were manufactured by the Big Three, foreign corporations such as Japan’s Toyota Motor Company have starting manufacturing in the US and are now an integrated part of the US automobile industry. According to many sources, the extended US operations of foreign based companies now rival those of American automobile manufacturers. For example, Toyota Motor Company now operates twelve manufacturing plants in the US, producing 1.55 million vehicles, 61.66% of the roughly 2.5 million vehicles the company sells in the US each year.
A wide variety of vehicles are manufactured in the United States, from compacts to full-size luxury vehicles. The American automobile industry itself is probably best known for the manufacture of large cars, leading to the common public perception of American cars being larger than those from other countries and making the US well known for the production of so called land yachts. Currently, light trucks (including SUVs) of all sizes and full-sized sedans constitute the majority of vehicles made by workers of the United Auto Workers union (UAW).] The Lincoln Town Car is currently the most expensive and largest car made in the US by an American manufacturer, while the Cadillac Escalade ESV Platinum is the most expensive SUV (This title used to held by the Hummer H1 until it was cancelled in May 2006). The largest passenger vehicle currently produced in the United States is the Dodge Ram Extended Cab.
While the denotation of domestic vehicle includes all vehicles made in the United States, the term Domestic vehicle in the United States is usually only applied to vehicles made by the “Big Three” and their traditional marques. The term domestic vehicle does not include vehicles sold under marques who used to be headquartered outside the United States and are now owned by the Ford Motor Company or General Motors. Ironically, vehicles made outside the US by the traditional marques of the “Big Three” are considered to be domestic vehicles, while vehicles made inside the US by foreign manufacturers are not considered domestic, but rather import vehicles.
The Mercedes-Benz R-Class is one of many vehicles that is marketed as an import vehicle due to the national origin of its manufacturer, yet is manufactured in the United States.
As with the term domestic vehicles, there is a legal definition for import vehicles but popular usage of the term, and popular views of what constitutes an “import” vehicle, vary widely.
For the purposes of Federal regulations, such as Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and the American Automobile Labeling Act of 1994 (AALA), vehicles produced in the United States, regardless of brand, are considered “domestic”, while vehicles produced outside the United States are considered “imported”.
However, many Americans view a Toyota vehicle made in Kentucky, or a Mercedes-Benz vehicle made in Alabama as an “import”, while others view a Pontiac vehicle made in Australia as a “domestic” vehicle. This perception is due to the respective brands’ longstanding association with their parent countries: Toyota with Japan, Mercedes-Benz with Germany and Pontiac with the United States.
The country of origin of any particular vehicle can be easily determined:
• The AALA requires that passenger vehicles manufactured after October 1, 1994 must have labels specifying their percentage value of U.S./Canadian parts content, the country of assembly, and countries of origin of the engine and transmission. These are typically part of, or adjacent, to the vehicle’s Monroney Label.
• Each vehicle sold in the United States carries a Vehicle Identification Number, as required by NHTSA regulation — Title 49, Part 565 of the U.S. Code. The VIN identifies the vehicle’s country of manufacture, and the company responsible for its production. Vehicles manufactured in the United States have VINs beginning with the numbers 1, 4, and 5 — regardless of where the company is based. Thus, a Toyota Camry made in the U.S. will have a 1, 4 or 5 at the start of its VIN, while one imported from Japan will begin with the letter J.
In the year 2000, according to an article in the magazine Motor BMW attempted to label its “X5″ Sport Utility Vehicle, made in Spartanburg, South Carolina with a VIN beginning with the letter W — indicating the vehicle was made in Germany. A spokesman for the Society of Automotive Engineers, the agency responsible for assigning the three-digit “World Manufacturer Identifier” that begins the VIN label, was quoted as saying “We assign (codes) according to the dirt the plant’s built on, not the headquarters of the company.”
The Big Three
“The Big Three” refers to the three largest automobile manufacturers headquartered in the United States. While there have been roughly 1,800 car manufacturers in the US over the course of the 20th century, only three large corporations with considerable sales numbers were left by the 1980s. The terms is applied to General Motors, the Ford Motor Company, and the Chrysler Corporation.
The Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit serves as the global headquarters of General Motors.
See General Motors for a complete overview of the corporation
General Motors is the largest automobile manufacturer in the United States and the world. GM is headquartered at the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit, employs approximately 327,000 people, sold 9.17 million cars world-wide, and had a $192.6 billion revenue for the year 2005. The corporation sells its vehicles in the United States under the following divisions and subsidiaries:
Ford Motor Company
A Ford assembly line in 1913, ten years after the company was founded in 1903.
See Ford Motor Company for a complete overview of the corporation
The Ford Motor Company (FoMoCo) was founded in 1904 by Henry Ford, and is America’s second largest and the world’s third largest vehicle manufacturer according to total sales volume. In 2005, the Ford Motor Company had a total revenue of $178.1 billion. The corporation sells vehicles under the following brand names and subsidiaries:
• Aston Martin (Ford retains a roughly 7.7% stake)
• Jaguar (also has the rights to the Daimler brand in some markets)
• Land Rover (both Land Rover and Jaguar were sold in 2008 to Tata Motors)
The Chrysler 300 has become one of the best selling American sedans and has marked Chrysler’s revival, according to many critics.
See Chrysler for more detailed description
Formed in 1925 by Walter Percy Chrysler, the Chrysler Corporation has since been one of the most important American automobile manufacturers, consistently ranking as the third-biggest for most of the post-war period.
In 1998, the Chrysler Corporation officially merged with Daimler-Benz of Germany, into a new entity, DaimlerChrysler (DCX), which is headquartered both in Stuttgart, Germany and Auburn Hills, Michigan (where the pre-merger headquarters of DaimlerBenz and Chrysler, respectively, were located). This raised a dispute on whether Chrysler (or, more specifically, the Chrysler Group within DCX, which consists of most former Chrysler Corporation operations and is headquartered in Auburn Hills) can still be seen as a domestic manufacturer. Nevertheless, the term “Big Three” still applied. Chrysler is once again an independent American corporation as of 2007.
In 2005, the Chrysler Group employed 83,130 people and sold 2.83 million vehicles globally, generating $57.4 billion in revenue. Chrysler manufactures and sells vehicles under the following brands:
Other automakers with manufacturing operations in United States
The best-selling passenger car in the United States is not one from the Big Three, but the Toyota Camry, although it is also manufactured in the US
See BMW AG for a complete overview of the corporation
BMW opened its American manufacturing plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina in 1994, to manufacture the Z3 roadster, later replaced by the Z4 model. Since 2000, the plant also manufactures the X5 SUV. All those models are made exclusively at Spartanburg for both the domestic market and worldwide exports (not counting CKD operations in some countries).
See Honda for a complete overview of the corporation
Honda was the first Japanese automaker to build a factory in the United States. Following the success of the Accord, the company opened a new plant in Marysville, Ohio in 1982 to assemble the model, which went on to become the most popular car in the US in 1989. Honda expanded their operations and the scope of models manufactured in the US, building the Anna engine plant and East Liberty automobile assembly plant, and in 2001 opening Honda Manufacturing of Alabama in Lincoln. Most models sold under the Honda and Acura brands in North America are currently manufactured in either the U.S. or Canada. Others, such as the Honda Fit, Honda S2000, Acura TSX, and Acura RL, are imported from Japan. Some vehicles, such as the older CR-V (in the eastern United States) and the Civic SI hatchback, were imported from the UK. Some Accord passenger cars were imported from Mexico in the early 2000s.
See Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama for more detailed description
Hyundai Motor Company started manufacturing in the United States in 2005, when their plant in Montgomery, Alabama started the production of the Sonata sedan. It was joined in 2006 by the new Santa Fe SUV.
See AutoAlliance International for more detailed description
Ford Motor Company and Mazda Motor Corporation jointly operate an automobile assembly plant in Michigan that currently produces the Mazda6 and the Ford Mustang.
See Mercedes-Benz U.S. International for more detailed description
In 1997, a year before the merger of Damiler-Benz and Chrysler, the former Daimler-Benz followed the steps of their Bavarian competitor and opened a plant in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, to serve as a worldwide production location for the new M-Class. The M-Class has since then been replaced by a new generation and joined by the new R-Class and GL-Class, also manufactured exclusively in Alabama.
Mitsubishi Motors Corporation
See Diamond-Star Motors for more detailed description
Mitsubishi Motors entered the American market through a long-standing partnership with Chrysler Corporation, and later this partnership was extended into a 50/50 joint venture manufacturing operation named Diamond-Star Motors (DSM) in Normal, Illinois. In 1991, Mitsubishi took over Chrysler’s share in DSM and in 1995 renamed it Mitsubishi Motors North America, Inc. (MMNA) Manufacturing Division. The plant has produced a number of Mitsubishi models and their Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth and Eagle derivatives, and currently manufactures vehicles based on the American-designed PS platform – the Galant, Eclipse and Endeavor. Manufacturing of related Chrysler-branded vehicles was taken over by Chrysler Group, and while other related Mitsubishi vehicles are sold worldwide.
See Nissan Motors for a complete overview of the corporation
Nissan opened their first factory in the 1980s in Smyrna, Tennessee, joined in the new millennium by another plant in Canton, Mississippi. Most models sold under the Nissan brand in United States, as well as Infiniti QX56, are currently manufactured there – contrary to Toyota or Honda, the company does not have any manufacturing operation in Canada. However, Nissan maintains manufacturing operations in Mexico, from which its smaller U.S.-market cars are imported from. Most North American models are specific to this market, although some models, like the Murano and Quest, are exported to other continents.
See Subaru of Indiana Automotive, Inc. for more detailed description
Subaru teamed up with fellow Japanese manufacturer Isuzu, forming a joint-venture called Subaru Isuzu Automotive to build and operate a manufacturing plant in Lafayette, Indiana. The plant made Subaru cars and Isuzu SUVs mostly for the American market until 2003, when Isuzu, facing faltering sales in America, decided to quit the venture selling their share to Subaru for $1. The plant continued to build Isuzu Rodeos under contract until the end of that vehicle’s production run. From then on, the production was limited to Subaru models such as Legacy and its derivatives Outback and Baja, as well as the new B9 Tribeca. The two latter models are only built in Indiana for all markets where they are sold. After Toyota acquired a stake in Fuji Heavy Industries, the parent company of Subaru, it shifted some of the Toyota Camry production to the Lafayette plant.
Toyota Motor Corporation
See Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America for more detailed description
Toyota’s first foray into automobile manufacturing in the United States was NUMMI, a joint venture with General Motors based on the latter’s production facility in California, which started in 1984 and has been manufacturing Toyota models and their versions branded as Geo, Chevrolet and Pontiac. Toyota went on to establish a number of wholly owned plants in states such as Kentucky, Indiana, California, West Virginia and Alabama, as well as in Canada. It does not, however, operate a plant in Mexico. More than half of Toyota-branded vehicles sold in the United States come from American plants. Conversely, all Scions are imported from Japan. Lexus-branded models are imported from Japan or Canada (RX only).