Lang Aftermarket iReport: More vehicles but fewer service bays

“Big changes are rumbling through the service bay populations of the seven major types of light vehicle repair outlets across the U.S., reflecting competitive market trends and the impact of COVID-19.”

“These bay changes have significant consequences for the Do-It-For-Me market share of major types of repair outlets, the volume of aftermarket products flowing through the five major distribution channels, and the brands of products installed by technicians on cars and light trucks.”

— Jim Lang, publisher, Lang Aftermarket iReport

More Vehicles but Fewer Bays

Despite the additional 43 million cars and light trucks that crowded onto the U.S. roads over the past 10 years (2010 to 2020), the light vehicle service bay population shrank.

Not only have the annual numbers of cars and light trucks increased since 2010, newer vehicles have become more mechanically complex than the light vehicle populations of just ten years ago.

Bay Count Shift by Major Types of Repair Outlets

Although approximately 1.14 million car and light truck service bays were operating across the U.S. at mid-year 2020, only two major types of repair outlets had managed to increase their bay count over the previous five years.

Service Stations & Garages Hit by COVID-19

Lang Marketing estimates that nearly 30,000 Service Station & Garage bays were shuttered between 2015 and 2020. The unprecedented impact of COVID-19 last year rapidly accelerated the trend of Service Station & Garage bay losses that had been underway for a number of years.

Vehicle Dealers Stabilized

Since the 2008 Great Recession, the number of Vehicle Dealers had stabilized in the U.S., with some growth in their population levels between 2015 and 2019.

However, the onslaught of COVID-19 reduced the number of Vehicle Dealers and, consequently, the Dealer bay population.

Other Outlets Losing Bays

The annual bay counts of Tire Stores, Discount Stores/Mass Merchandisers and Retail Auto Parts Stores, each declined between 2015 and 2020.

Tire Stores were hit hard by the onslaught of COVID-19, and their outlet population declined during 2020. The Tire Store bay count had suffered a modest decline over the previous four years. As a result, there were approximately 6,000 fewer Tire Store bays at mid-year 2020 than five years earlier.

Discount Stores/Mass Merchandisers had their bay count reduced by the closing of numerous Sears Service Centers that had begun previous to the onslaught of COVID-19. The bay population of Discount Stores/Mass Merchandisers fell by more than 2,500 between 2015 and 2020.

The number of Retail Auto Parts Stores with bays had been declining for the past ten years. Their loss of service bays between 2015 and 2020 numbered more than 1,500.

Repair Outlets Adding Bays

Only two types of repair outlets added service bays between 2015 and 2020: Repair Specialists and Foreign Specialists.

Although each of these outlet groups suffered some bay losses during 2020, their service bay growth between 2015 and 2019 more than offset the negative impact of COVID-19 on their bay populations during 2020.

Overall, Repair Specialists expanded their bay count by approximately 4,200 between 2015 and 2020, and Foreign Specialists added nearly 5,000 bays over this five-year span.

Independent Bay Share Loss

Independent (non-Dealer) outlets fell to less than a 73% share of service bays during 2020, down from a 75% share during 2015.

Six Major Takeaways

  • Despite the VIO expanding by more than 43 million cars and light trucks over the past ten years (2010 to 2020), the light vehicle bay population across the U.S. shrank by more than 3%.
  • Service Stations & Garages suffered the largest bay decline, as they were hit particularly hard by the onslaught of COVID-19. Lang Marketing estimates that Service Stations & Garages lost a total of nearly 30,000 bays between 2015 and 2020.
  • Despite increasing their bay count between 2015 and 2019, Dealers suffered a loss of several hundred outlets during 2020. Consequently, their 2020 service bay population was lower than five years earlier.
  • Tire Stores, Discount Stores/Mass Merchandisers with bays and Retail Auto Parts Stores with bays each suffered declines in their service bay populations between 2015 and 2020.
  • Foreign Specialists recorded the largest gain in bay count between 2015 and 2020, adding nearly 5,000 light vehicle service bays. Repair Specialists also increased their repair market capacity by adding over 4,200 bays in the past five years, despite a loss of bays last year (2020).
  • Independent (non-Dealer) DIFM outlets fell from a 75% service bay share during 2015 to 73% at mid-year 2020. See the new and expanded 2022 Lang Aftermarket Annual, which will be released in several weeks, for complete analysis of the massive shifts in service bay count accelerated by COVID-19.

Copyright 2021 by Lang Marketing Resources, Inc.

NOTESpecial thanks to publisher Jim Lang for granting us permission to publish the Lang Aftermarket iReport.