Market research firm The NPD Group forecasts 2.7% growth in the U.S. aftermarket in 2018.
This is a welcome shift from anemic U.S. aftermarket growth, and a slight unit sales drop, in 2017.
According to NPD, the U.S. automotive aftermarket industry sales grew 2.2 percent in 2017, largely on the back of a 3.3 percent increase in average selling price, as unit sales declined by 1.1 percent.
Slowed miles driven growth proved to be a major headwind last year.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation miles driven grew by 2.6 percent in 2016, when the aftermarket grew its sales by nearly 3 percent. In 2017, that rate slowed to 1.2 percent, slowing the aftermarket’s growth along with it.
“Miles driven was a big factor in creating a healthy environment for the aftermarket industry in 2015 and 2016. This slowdown has been a headwind for the industry in 2017. However, I expect the rate to stabilize in 2018, which will be a nice tailwind for the aftermarket and positively impact its outlook for this year,” said Nathan Shipley, executive director and automotive industry analyst, The NPD Group.
Over the long term, e-commerce growth is expected to have a continued effect. The aftermarket’s online penetration rate has doubled in the last three years, from 7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014 to 14 percent in 2017, says NPD, even though this still makes the aftermarket is one of the lowest e-commerce penetrated industries tracked by NPD.
“A slow migration to e-commerce for automotive products will be one of the most talked about topics in our industry in 2018. As the online channel chips away at brick-and-mortar, manufacturers and retailers alike will continue to find new ways to compete in this space, most notably in the buy online/pickup in store offering for consumers. Identifying and executing on new ways to drive foot traffic, which should be treated as a non-renewable resource, will be critical to long-term success,” said Shipley.
Last year was also notable for its weather events and weather-related categories moved into the top ranks as hurricanes and heavy snow hit the U.S. in 2017. Fluid management, which includes gas cans and funnels—products that are hurricane related—and batteries were the fastest-growing categories of the year, with sales for both up 6 percent. Other top-performing categories impacted by the weather were lighting (+5 percent), wipers (+3 percent), antifreeze (+3 percent), and cargo management (+2 percent).
A key driver for the aftermarket was a significant increase in the overall average selling price in 2017. Average price grew 2 percentage points more verus 2016, and this was influenced by a few different pricing factors. A change the mix of what sold caused overall price to increase for the tire and wheel category. In motor oil, consumers traded up to higher priced synthetic oil in place of cheaper conventional oil. Price inflation caused an increase in selling prices for transmission fluid, as the same items were priced higher compared to the previous year.
“My expectation is that both miles driven and average selling price will strike their balance in 2018, bringing the aftermarket’s growth to about 2.7 percent for the year,” said Shipley. “While I expect pricing activity in the market to drive top line sales growth, should a strong winter storm hit over much of the country, we will see impressive sales results for a wide range of weather-related categories.”