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Long-term trends in car and light truck sales

The FRED graph above tracks vehicle sales in the United States since 1976. Despite a substantial increase in population, the general trend of vehicle sales is surprisingly flat. But the composition has changed: The proportion of automobiles (in purple and green) has decreased significantly in favor of light trucks and SUVs (in blue and red).

The FRED graph below tracks the same data, but the series are ordered differently: foreign vehicles on the top and domestic vehicles at the bottom. This reordering doesn’t change anything, but it does illuminate the increase in the share of light trucks and SUVs over cars—which occurred among domestic and foreign vehicles alike.

Finally, these trends hide considerable churn: The automobile industry is especially susceptible to recessions, like all sectors that produce investment goods. But we can see the pandemic recession is special, given that the deep drop in sales lasted for only a short period compared with other recessions.

How these graphs were created: Search for “car sales” on FRED, then look for the release table below the graph. There, check the series to display and click “Add to Graph.” Start the graph in 1976, when all series are available. From the “Edit Graph” panel, use the “Format” tab to change the graph type to a normally stacked area and change the order of the series to suit tastes.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.


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