Do you remember when being “cool” meant having your own car and souping up the engine in the garage? When teenagers spent Saturdays rebuilding Pontiac GTOs and Plymouth Barracudas? How cool was “The Fonz”?
All right, for those of you who either remember Fonzie or have seen the “Happy Days” reruns, he was usually tinkering with a motorcycle, not a car. But for the average baby boomer, owning your own car was a rite of passage to adulthood. Lifestyles were more homogenous in the post-World War II era and automobiles were high on everyone’s list of things to own and be proud of.
That’s all changed.
Cars are still beloved by many of us, but times, tastes and economic realities aren’t the same as in Fonzie’s day. Earlier this year, VehicleServicePros reported that average miles driven declined for the eighth straight year (vehicleservicepros.com/10942853). A couple of weeks ago, VehicleServicePros reported that automobile use has dropped sharply since the Great Recession and hasn’t recovered. Many observers believe the traditional love affair with the car has given way to harsher economic realities (rising costs for vehicles, maintenance and fuel) and more sedentary lifestyles created by the Internet.
Perhaps the biggest factor of all is the aging of us baby boomers – the biggest demographic group. We just aren’t running around like we used to. Have you seen what Fonzie (actor Henry Winkler) looks like today?
To be fair, to the best of my knowledge no one has yet conducted a definitive study on what value consumers place on cars today compared to yesterday. But fewer miles are being driven, fewer new cars are being sold and the age of the average car continues to grow. VehicleServicePros reported last month that the average age of light vehicles on the road now stands at a record high of 11.4 years (vehicleservicepros.com/11078532). Polk, the automotive research firm, expects the 6-to 11-year-old vehicle segment to shrink by more than 20 percent and the 12 and older segment to grow at a rate almost half of the prior five-year period.
With consumers holding onto their vehicles longer, aftermarket shops have an obvious opportunity to service an expanding maintenance and repair demand. So is a new version of “Happy Days” ahead? Yes, but with a caveat.
Aftermarket shops can expect stiff competition from aftermarket retailers targeting the do-it-yourself market. Many retiring baby boomers fancy their mechanical skills and they now have time to indulge in their adolescent fantasies.
But long-term, the do-it-yourself market will be less of a competitive factor for aftermarket shops. Automotive systems have become more and more complex, as have diagnostic and repair tools, strengthening the demand for aftermarket service professionals. But to service this market, shops need to get up to speed on rapidly evolving Bluetooth-based systems and a host of other technologies.
The Fonz may have left the shop, but his spirit lives on.