If you had the opportunity to relive your 17th year of existence, would you?
I, politely, would have to pass. Seventeen felt like a placeholder for the long-awaited 18th birthday when life got "real" and you were officially considered an adult. For me, 17 meant "wait, you're still not old enough yet," and 18 meant college years — aka freedom in teen speak — were on the horizon.
But for others, 17 seems to nurture nostalgia. It's a year of your life where you can remain in adolescent limbo.
Britney Spears, pop princess of the new millennium, sang about this weird, transitional period in the song "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman." If you're not a fan of that song — for the record, I'm not either — there's also Stevie Nicks' "Edge of Seventeen," ABBA's "Dancing Queen" or Broken Social Scene's "Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl." Even The Beatles tagged the age in "I Saw Her Standing There."
Seventeen is an important age in songwriting, so it seems, but the music industry isn't alone. Seventeen is also a highly cherished number in the car business. And for automakers and plastics machinery execs, reliving 17 again and again and again and again is a good thing.
As we approach the end of 2018, U.S. auto sales are on track to finish above 17 million units for the fourth year in a row. Bob Carter, executive vice president of sales at Toyota Motor North America, praised the number during the Japanese automaker's Dec. 6 holiday luncheon in Detroit.
"Well, with about three and a half weeks to go — you guys, and ladies, know the numbers — it appears it's going to come in somewhere between 17.1 [million] and 17.2 [million], so four consecutive years of 17 million," Carter told reporters during the event.
"I know that there's a lot of stress and a lot of issues and a lot of things the industry is working through," he said. "But honestly, in my heart, if you can't be happy at a 17 million industry, it's probably time to get the hell out of the car business."
And speaking of cars, while Carter acknowledged there's no denying consumer preference is shifting from sedans to SUVs, crossovers and trucks, "cars [are] an extremely important part of this business," he said.
"We're committed to CUVs. We're committed to trucks, but you will see us remain committed to cars," Carter said.
As Plastics News senior reporter Bill Bregar and I reported earlier this month, 17 million is also good for sales of injection molding machines, sparking investment in large-tonnage presses, specifically. But nothing lasts forever, and some industry executives have already said business in the large-tonnage presses is declining from a slowing automotive market, among other headwinds.
As the clock ticks forward, we get older and hopefully wiser with age. Next year, I'll say goodbye to my current placeholder age of 29. For the automotive industry, however, it could mean a reversion back to sweet 16.
Though Carter said Toyota is "very bullish on the market" and is having a solid year in 2018, he's not anticipating a 17 million market next year.
"We do believe that there is going to be some mild contraction into the sales," he said. "There are lots of tailwinds and lots of headwinds that we're studying, but we think the market is going to be in the mid to upper 16s next year."