Using your car: the costs add up
While consumers may consider the price of vehicles to be relatively reasonable, the same cannot be said for their running costs. In addition, there are marked differences from one type of expense to the next.
A sizeable cost burden
A majority of motorists are adamant that the overall cost of owning a vehicle is high relative to the finances at their disposal. 6 out of 10 are of this opinion. This is a minority position in only three countries, with the Chinese being the least likely to complain about the high cost of motoring. Conversely, the Turks, for the reasons mentioned previously, as well as the Brazilians, are overwhelmingly likely to decry the sizeable budget required (Fig. 12).
If we look purely at the monetary data, automobile-related expenses are the highest in the USA, Austria and Norway, at nearly €2,000 per year (Fig. 13). However, if we take into account net annual income per capita, the cost burden of using a car (fuel, upkeep and insurance) looks very different. Americans spend the smallest proportion of their earnings on their vehicle (6.4% of their total annual budget). The figure is twice as high for their neighbours in Mexico (13.3%). In France, motorists spend 7.7% of their annual budget on their vehicle.
An ever greater financial burden
Not only are cars expensive to run nowadays, but these costs continue to rise. More than 8 out of 10 respondents believe this to be the case, with only a tiny minority being of the view that running costs have fallen. In all the countries surveyed, the majority of respondents feel that the cost of using a car is on the up (Fig. 14). Not surprisingly, given the economic circumstances they face, the Turks are very much of this opinion (95%). Almost as many South Africans agree. One has to go to Asia, specifically Japan and China, to find motorists who are less scathing in comparison, with just under 7 out of 10 respondents stating that motoring costs have increased.
Depreciation: a hidden cost of motoring
Another way of considering vehicle budgets is to include not only running costs but also the losses incurred. With this in mind, vehicle depreciation emerges as the number one budget killer in European countries, depriving motorists of financial leeway when buying their next car. Depreciation is particularly high on the latest electric models, given the greater rate of obsolescence of innovative high-tech products (Fig. 15).
Costs put people off
Broadly speaking, cost is an issue that affects mobility as a whole. Nearly 6 out of 10 people say they have previously decided not to travel because of the cost involved, regardless of the mode of transport used (Fig. 16). In those countries with the least resilient economies, such as Turkey and South Africa, this proportion rises to almost 8 out of 10. The figure for France is close to the overall average.
Insurance and upkeep, two costs that are still deemed reasonable
No insurance against high costs
Insurance is the number one item of expenditure examined by L’Observatoire Cetelem de l’Automobile 2023. Its cost is considered high by almost 1 in 2 respondents (Fig. 17). At the risk of repetition – and this will not be the last time it occurs – the Turks are the most likely to describe this cost as excessive (71%), while the Germans are the least likely to do so (38%). The geographical breakdown of views on this topic reveals that a majority of respondents in several European countries believe that insurance is too expensive. This is notably the case in Belgium and Norway. Just over 1 in 2 French respondents are also of this belief.
And yet, there is no real correlation between the cost of insurance and the sense that one is paying too much for it. At almost €1,000 per year, Austrians incur the highest insurance costs, but they are among the least likely to consider the price excessive. At the other end of the scale, the Poles are among the most critical, despite paying the least for their policies. Once again, the French pay close to the average, with an annual spend of €579 (Fig. 18).
The Austrians incur the second highest insurance costs relative to their income per capita, just ahead of the Mexicans (2.5% and 2.8%, respectively). The Poles bring up the rear in this ranking (1.1%).
Is the increase in car insurance prices set to be reversed?
Having risen for six years in a row, car insurance premiums fell slightly in France in 2021, saving motorists an average of €9 compared with the previous year (Fig. 19). While the constant rise observed since 2016 was caused primarily by the soaring price of spare parts and the passing on of additional costs relating to other types of insurance (direct or indirect consequences of natural disasters, Covid, etc.), the reason for the fall recorded in 2021 is altogether different. Indeed, the global health crisis, the travel restrictions to which it led and the widescale adoption of remote working have contributed to a significant reduction in traffic volumes and, therefore, in the number of insurance claims and payouts. There has also been growing competitive pressure within the car insurance sector, with the arrival of new entrants who are cutting prices by applying new “pay as you drive” or “pay how you drive” models, where rates depend on the amount a car is used or the owner’s driving style.
Repairs: a lesser evil
When it comes to upkeep and repairs, the second biggest expense item for vehicle owners, the views of motorists are more measured, with just over 4 in 10 deeming their cost too high (Fig. 20). Once again, the Turks top the list (72%), followed this time by the Japanese, who are also up in arms about high prices. Meanwhile, the Americans and the Brits do not appear to suffer excessively from the financial outlay involved (30% and 34%). What of the French? They fall into line with the average, of course.
Judging by the cost of vehicle repairs and the proportion of average income that they represent, the Japanese seem to have good reason to be annoyed. With a mean spend of €901 per year, they are well ahead of every other country, followed at a distance by the Norwegians and the Austrians. Once more, the Poles spend the least of all the populations surveyed (€326), but the Turks are only just ahead of them in terms of expenditure (Fig. 21).
If we look at the repairs-to-income ratio, the Japanese sit in second place, with the Mexicans taking the lead once again (2.7% and 3.1% respectively). And we find the same two countries at the foot of the ranking: Poland and the United States.
It should also be noted that spending on repairs is very similar regardless of whether vehicles are bought new or used. New cars are usually booked in for regular servicing at dealerships, which comes at a cost, while second-hand vehicles tend to be repaired more frequently, but at cheaper prices.
Spare parts prices skyrocket
It isn’t just cars that are becoming more expensive every year: spare parts prices are rising too. Several coinciding factors have contributed to an increase of almost 30% over the last decade (Fig. 22). Vehicles are becoming better equipped and parts are increasingly sophisticated and complex to produce. Recent shortages (affecting electronic chips in particular), longer lead times and soaring raw material costs all explain the recent surge in prices. The monopoly enjoyed by automakers when it comes to spare parts is also regularly singled out as a cause of inflated prices for consumers. The liberalisation of the car parts market by the “Climate and Resilience” Act of 22 August 2021 could help reverse the trend (in France). However, progress looks set to be slow and gradual, since the legislation will only cover the automotive glass market as of January 2023. In the meantime, to help lighten the bill, consumers can rely on local mechanics. Indeed, since 2017 the latter have been required to provide an alternative quote based on the use of second-hand parts, which are obviously less expensive.
Fuelling the problem
Petrol, my dear!
While the cost of insurance and repairs is a matter for some debate, the same cannot be said for fuel. The findings are clear: 7 out of 10 motorists feel that their fuel budget is high (Fig. 23). China is the only country surveyed in which this is not a majority-held view, although not by much, given that 49% of Chinese motorists agree with the suggestion. In every other country, it is unquestionable, especially in Turkey where 9 out of 10 people believe the cost is high. The Japanese and Mexicans are a little less vehement, although they are not as measured as the Chinese.
Spectacular price rises
A quick glance at diesel prices at the pump in several of the countries surveyed goes some way to explaining the feelings of motorists (Fig. 24). In Japan, price rises have indeed remained relatively contained. Conversely, in the United States and Mexico prices have risen by more than 50%, causing consumers in those countries to forget how low they still are compared to other countries.
This increase has had a direct impact on the distances motorists drive. In France, an extra euro on the price of a litre of diesel prompts motorists to travel 1,000 fewer kilometres per year in the short term. Over the long term, such a price increase reduces the average annual distance travelled by 7,500 kilometres.
The impact of prices at the pump varies
In concrete terms, the average monthly fuel budget of motorists in the 18 countries covered by L’Observatoire Cetelem de l’Automobile 2023 is €133. Although prices have skyrocketed everywhere, there are significant differences between the countries, and not always where one would expect them (Fig. 25).
Motorists in Japan are relatively unmoved by the impact of high fuel prices and it is they who report the lowest estimated monthly expenditure: €92. In all other countries the figure exceeds €100, in some cases by a significant margin. In Belgium and the United States, the leading pair in this particular ranking, spending on fuel totals €165 a month. In most EU countries, Portugal and Poland aside, monthly fuel budgets are fairly similar.
Pressure on crude oil prices
On 24 February 2022, the day on which Vladimir Putin announced the launch of a “special operation” in Ukraine, the price of a barrel of crude oil exceeded $100 for the first time in 7 years. After several years of prices staying below $80, we appear to be entering a highly uncertain period. Today’s geopolitical and economic cocktail could hold many more surprises (Fig. 26).