Light Vehicle Sales Per Capita: Our Latest Look at the Long-Term Trend

Note: The charts below have been updated to include Thursday's preliminary report on U.S. Light Vehicle sales from Motor Intelligence.

For the past few years, we've been following a couple of transportation metrics: Vehicle Miles Traveled and Gasoline Volume Sales. For both series, we focus on the population adjusted data. Let's now do something similar with the Light Vehicle Sales report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. This data series stretches back to January 1976. Since that first data point, the Civilian Noninstitutional Population Age 16 and Over (i.e., driving age, not in the military, or an inmate) has risen about 64%.

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, to be sure. The absolute average month-over-month change is 4.4%.

FRED Light Vehicle Sales

The latest data point is the preliminary January count published by Motor Intelligence, which shows a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 17.6 million units, which is a 3.7% decrease from the previous month.

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.