Paged through Car & Driver’s annual “get you excited about the new cars” issue yesterday, complete with multipage GM insert… Depressing. Having fueled us with one new car into after another the last couple years, largely funded by bailouts and mortgaging the Blue Oval and just about everything else, looks like all we’ll get for 2013 is a revised engine or tranny. Not much diesel clatter either, other than maybe in a midsize luxury SUV or three.  Same for trucks, with the exception of Paccar’s new fleet trucks, which foretell the exile of the classic long hood W900s and 379s to the vocational market. And bikes? Looks like the big four japanese brands are easing into twenty year model cycles, and Polaris, Honda, Yamaha, and Kawasaki have jumped into the fleet market with police bikes,  joining  HOG(NYSE) and BMW.

No wonder my alter ego “fleet manager” and her ilk are so overjoyed of late- the fleet market has grown so (and the consumer market shrunk) that the fleets are the market makers. Yup, GM and Ford’s recent monthly sales drop was blamed on just one segment of the fleet market, rental companies.

What were seeing is a market where the average consumer is out of the market, thanks to shrinking wages and increasing new vehicle prices. Years ago I noted that sort of fleet dominated market in poor countries, where only the big corporations could afford new vehicles. This produced a perverse economic trickle down of aged vehicles, as consumers and small businesses paid exorbitant prices for the fleet’s cast off vehicles and were forced to expensively run them into the ground for decades. Meanwhile, here in the prosperous U.S., a new car every five years or so was considered a constitutional right and only us gearheads kept anything over ten years old.

Well, the U.S. market is increasingly resembling those third world ones, as the age of the average car has passed 10 years and keeps rising. The fleet managers are celebrating- they can buy a well equiped econobox for $15k or so at near zero interest, let the help abuse it for a couple years, then dump it on the used market for the same $15k or so. Don’t believe me? I live in a rural midwest dumping ground for used fleet cars, and the GM dealer on the other side of the wall five feet to my right has a lot full of year or three old cars selling for new price. If I wandered over and mentioned “A plan”, they’d probably kick me out of the place.

It’s even worse in the truck biz… A couple decades back I heard that only 25% or so of new big trucks were to owner-operators. Before the recession that had fallen to 20%, and last I heard only 15% and falling of new big trucks are sold to owner-operators. While the classic (and decidedly un-aerodynamic) long hood owner-operator trucks may be popular with drivers, their sales have dropped to the point that Paccar will probably be discontinuing the highway versions of their classic long nose conventionals to improve their fleet MPG average to meet the upcoming big truck MPG standards.

And sadly, the fleet managers are starting to move the motorcycle biz too. When retail sales are weak as recession starved riders quit buying new bikes, a hundred or even a handful of police bike sales to governments that will be regular and reliable customers can be atractive to dealers and manufacturers. Especially when the sales will be leases with maintainence included, bringing the fleet customer back for a new bike every couple years as well as a used trade in to be profitably sold to us poor riders that can’t afford new anymore.

So no wonder they don’t make a big production of new model intros anymore… There’s few new models, and we’re not the major customers anymore. Think maybe I should crank up the “way-back” machine, and do some blogs on the new models from a more exciting time… 1963, perhaps?

 

 

 

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