New cars vs. old cars -- the 'old paint' economic indicator
There's always a but, isn't there?
You can talk about companies -- such as Bank of America -- reporting better earnings. Or about how unemployment claims have fallen again. Or that consumer prices are holding steady. Or even about mortgage interest rates hitting new lows.
But then there's the "old paint" index, and the news there isn't so rosy.
You might have a different name for this economic indicator, such as "the clunker," or "the jalopy" or even "this old thing? I’ve had it forever."
Whatever. The bottom line is, the average age of all the vehicles on America's roads is at a record high: 10.8 years. For just cars, it's 11.1 years.
They're not necessarily scientific, but those are telling numbers.
For one thing, it means that a lot of Americans aren't sure enough in the economy to splurge on a new car. Call it the "car consumer confidence index," I guess. And when it's down, so are we.
Because Americans love cars. They love to drive.
Especially in California. Here, a new car is a, well, if not a fundamental right, at least something close.
It's like the old joke about first impressions: In the East, they ask what school you went to. In the South, they ask who your family is. In California, they ask what kind of car you drive.
Also, I think this whole old car vs. new car divide adds fuel to the "class warfare" debate.
What can be more discouraging -- what inspires more envy -- than the sight of a shiny new BMW passing you on the freeway? Especially when you're driving an 11-year-old not-a-BMW that needs shocks and tires -- and that you don't valet park because you don't want to be laughed at?
I'm telling you, for a savvy politician, there's a campaign slogan here.
Forget "a chicken in every pot."
How about "a new car in every garage"?
Photo: A shiny, new Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet. Credit: Nissan