News Briefs: Feb. 21, 2012

Here's what we have our eye on today:

  • Government data shows U.S. motorists drove the fewest miles last year since 2003, The Detroit News reports. Despite an uptick in December thanks to mild winter weather, Americans drove 2.963 trillion miles in 2011, a 1.2% decrease versus 2010. The Detroit News says economic malaise, older cars and higher gas prices since 2008 could be to blame. So could lower ownership rates, perhaps led in part by waning enthusiasm among teenagers. About 77 cars exist for every 100 Americans today – down from 80 cars in 2007, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau and industry analyst R.L. Polk.
  • Polk also reports that shoppers are keeping the cars they buy today for record lengths of time. The average new car purchased in summer 2011 will stay with its owner for nearly six years; used vehicles stay with their owners for just over four years. Both figures are record highs, capping a trend that dates back to late 2008. Polk says the still-shaky economy, longer financing terms, longer warranties and better reliability contribute to the increase.
  • U.S. automakers' sales projections for 2012 could reflect unrealistic optimism, Automotive News reports. Add up what each company is gunning for — Honda targets a 25% increase, Nissan targets 18%, Chrysler targets 15% — and you're looking at 14.4 million new-car sales in 2012. That's well above most experts' predictions, which range from 13.6 million to 13.8 million, or about an 8% increase versus 2011.
  • Positive profit reports from an automaker influence more than two-thirds of car shoppers "somewhat" or "a great deal" toward considering that automaker's cars, according to the latest survey from CNW Marketing Research (subscription required). Other nuggets from this month's CNW Retail Automotive Summary: Fewer new-car shoppers in 2011 traded in a car on which they were upside down — 14.5%, versus 2010's record of 16.7% — but the average amount of negative equity per car rose 14.4%. And new-car shoppers in February averaged 16.1% in dealer and manufacturer discounts, about even with January's 16% but well over February 2011's 13.3%.

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