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The Automotive Industry in the USA

The US Automotive Industry at record highs

The American automotive industry has experienced significant growth in recent years, rebounding from the record  losses in sales and production levels during the financial crisis of 2009. However, through commitment to quality, innovation and new products, the North American automotive industry has experienced a steady increase in sales over the past 7 years, making it one of the most important regions for global OEMs, suppliers and services providers. Consequently, many key suppliers are represented in the North American automotive market.

The automotive industry is one of the most important industries in the United States. Today, the US is the fourth largest manufacturer of cars worldwide, with a production totaling 12.2 million vehicles in 2016, representing a 0.8% growth compared to the previous year. The US is also home to 13 automotive manufacturers. The industry directly employs 1 million people engaged in designing, engineering, manufacturing, and supplying parts and components to assemble, sell and service new motor vehicles, and contributes to 3-3.5% of the total GDP.

Most of the US automotive and supplier industry is located in an area stretching from the state of Michigan to the Southeast region of the country. The German automotive OEMs BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen have established manufacturing assembly fascilities in the South, with the area often being referred to as the “German Triangle”. The American manufacturers Ford, GM and Chrysler make up the “Detroit Three” and have assembly plants primarily in the Midwestern states. The Asian automotives which include Honda, Hyundai-Kia, Toyota, Subaru, and Nissan can be found in both Midwestern and Southern regions.

Important Market Statistics, Trends, and Developments

  • It is expected that consumer spending, improvements in credit availability, the shift towards greener vehicles, and an aging vehicle fleet, averaging 11.6 years, will keep the the U.S. automotive sales on a constant high level.
  • In 2016, 17.46 million light vehicles were sold in the US; this number was a slight increase of 0.4% to the record breaking year 2015 (17.39 Million units). Therefore, the light vehicles have a consecutive growth since the historic low in 2009. Light trucks, which include SUVs, vans, and pickups make up the majority of these vehicles, at approximtely 60%.
  • The Midwest is the home of the US automotive industry with a share of 68% of the total US light vehicle production.
  • Michigan is home to more than half of the top 100 auto suppliers, and the center for R&D and engineering for the industry. Volkswagen, for example, has over 2000 employees at its tech center, despite having its headquarters in Virginia and production in Tennessee. 375 R&D centers in the state spend over 12 billion USD a year on R&D.
  • Traditionally, new vehicle sales in the US have been dominated by large car platforms and light trucks. Sales of light trucks have grown steadily since 2013, and American consumers are also showing an increased trend towards lighter and more fuel-efficient cars, partly due to increased urbanization of the general population. The industry, recognizing this shift in consumer preference at the time, has therefore heavily invested into improving production efficiencies. However, cheap gasoline prices are reversing this trend to some degree.

Market Opportunities for German Companies

  • The German automotive manufacturers are all present in the US market, bringing with them many German auto suppliers. Once present, German suppliers benefit with increased business opportunities from domestic manufacturers and suppliers.
  • The introduction of new vehicle products with state-of-the-art technology are largely responsible for stimulating vehicle sales in the US, with the primary drivers for new technology being government legislation and consumer preferences.
  • The ongoing development and distribution of web based technologies finds its way into more and more automotive applications. This development creates new business opportunities for companies in the area of passenger and pedestrian safety protection systems through the communication between vehicles (V2V) or even the whole environment (V2X).
  • The electrification of the automobile is gaining importance. The number of available models in the US more than doubled between 2014 and 2016. Established car manufacturers and car manufacturing start ups like Tesla but also other mainly California based companies compete for market shares.
  • Driven by Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards set by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), US truck manufacturers are making plans to improve fuel and carbon emission performance, beginning in 2017.
  • Lightweighting technologies are becoming increasingly important. According to industry insiders, these new materials have advantages beyond pure weight reduction: They provide opportunities to modify the design of the components as well, which could also lead to cost savings.
  • Overall, the outlook for German American business opportunities remains very positive. Recent data shows that 96% of German companies in the US predict positive revenue growth of the US economy and for their US business in 2015. Additionally, 87% of German companies reported the same or much better US sales volumes in 2015, despite flat sales prices. Last but not least, about 60% of German companies in the USA say, that they are happy with the current status, only 4% are unhappy.

Organizations & Links

  • SelectUSA gives an overview of the automotive industry from the U.S. Department of Commerce, as well as links to relevant associations.
  • The Center for Automotive Research, is engaged with important trends and developments in the automotive industry.
  • The United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics is responsible for measuring labor market activity, working conditions, and price changes in the U.S. economy. This website provides statistics and resources for essential economic information.
  • AutoNews.com is the leading North American automotive business website and acts as an important source of industry news and data. 
  • Wards Auto serves as an information center about the global automotive industry. Their website provides services such as online data products, magazines and print and digital newsletters.
  • The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers is an association of 12 vehicle manufacturers. The organization’s website provides up-to-date information on the U.S. automotive industry. 
  • SAE International is a global association of engineers and related technical experts in the aerospace, automotive and commercial-vehicle industries. This website provides resources such as articles, publications, webcasts, and event information related to the automotive industry.

Contact

Stefan Noeth

Project Manager, Michigan Office

Detroit

+1 (313) 596-0399
+1 (313) 334-6814
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