If you watch television, you know that this is the time of year to buy a new car or truck. Commercials constantly remind us that dealers need to clear out the old models to make room for the new, and manufacturers are aiding the effort with lowered prices, decent rebates, and special financing for purchases and leases.
There are all kinds of themes in these “spots,” and one now playing is Toyota’s “here comes another truckload of ‘18 models.” We see spokespersons standing outside a showroom and observing a car-hauling rig entering the lot loaded to the gills with Camrys, Corollas, RAV4s, Tacomas, and so on. The rack-type trailer is open so the shiny new vehicles gleam in the sun.
"Ah, but they won’t last long,” one person or the other remarks, "because they’re going fast.” We know that’s true because other Toyota commercials show enthusiastic customers in showrooms and on lots, claiming title to one car after another.
By this time in the sales cycle, the leftover 2018s are going so very fast that they’re apparently being snatched right off the truck! Look – that trailer that just came in loaded is now empty. Its ramps are bare and tie-down straps are hanging in the breeze. Ha ha, that’s cute. And Toyotas are good products, so I’m tempted to visit a dealer and see what I could snatch in the way of a deal. If not on a Toyota, then maybe a Chevy, Ford, Chrysler, or Nissan.
Wait – if sales are so brisk, why does Toyota and the others have to run these commercials, during local and national programming, so often? Shouldn’t the cars and trucks be flying off the trucks and the lots -- on their own? Not if sales are declining – and they are, according to news media reports since the spring.
On August 2, Fortune magazine ran a good summary of why: Basically, old cars and light trucks are staying on the road longer, and too many new vehicles have been built and sold. Consumers can buy only so many before the market is satiated. The manufacturers should have seen it coming, Fortune says.
My own sales barometer is a long railroad spur along U.S. 23 north of Marion, Ohio. Toward the end of the Great Recession, that spur was jammed full of “auto racks,” the covered, triple-deck rail cars that carry new vehicles from factories to distribution points around the country. There, the cars are driven off and loaded aboard highway car haulers for the final miles to dealers. As the economy healed, those rail cars disappeared and were put in service.
I drove past that rail spur a few days ago, and it’s full again, with auto racks and other kinds of freight cars. That tells me that automotive sales are down, and so are other types of economic activity.
I don’t want to see a recession and I’m not going to predict one, even though I’ve read that one is due in 2020. If that comes to pass, there’ll be more empty auto hauling rig to be seen – parked against the fence.