GM's consolidation to four brands and Ford's discontinuation of Mercury have helped to create the current environment in which there is an exceptionally high number of "orphan owners" on the road. "Orphan owners" are driving cars or light trucks from a make that no longer markets new vehicles in the U.S. As of last October, the latest date for which Polk has Vehicles In Operation (VIO) data, there were 18,529,769 million "orphan" cars and light trucks on the road from 16 makes. Five metro areas had over half a million orphan owners each, including New York, Chicago, LA, Detroit and Philadelphia.
When looking at orphan owners as a percent of all drivers on the road, the markets with the highest results understandably are in the Midwest, including several markets in Michigan and Ohio where there would be a high mix of company cars. The three markets with the highest percent of orphan owners are Flint, Lansing and Grand Rapids. More than 16% of all vehicles on the road in these markets are from makes no longer in business. In Flint, almost one of every five drivers is an "orphan owner," which again makes sense since GM has historically had a major presence in Flint.
There are several large cities which do not rank among the Top 25 with the highest percent of orphan owners, but nevertheless have more than 10% of their drivers in this category. These cities include Rochester (New York), Cleveland, Milwaukee, Minneapolis/St. Paul, St. Louis, Columbus and Chicago. Several of these metropolitan areas at one time were home to domestic assembly plants.
Orphan owners present a golden opportunity for new vehicle manufacturers. These drivers are forced to shop for a new brand regardless of their satisfaction with their current car or light truck. Manufacturers and dealers can take advantage of this situation by using available information about the owners, including demographics as well as likely trading patterns, to market appropriate products directly to them. Right now this pool of "orphan owners" is exceptionally large and offers a rare opportunity to those OEMs and dealers willing to "step up."
Posted by Tom Libby, Lead Analyst, North American Forecasting, Polk (05.02.2012)