Fleet News

Guest opinion: Used car trends no longer certain

RESEARCH in the used car market increasingly suggests the old familiar patterns of demand peaks and troughs can no longer be assumed.

For example, in the retail used car sector, dealers recorded significantly higher sales in December than they predicted beforehand. Then January proved to be a less successful sales month in retail volume terms than anticipated.

These findings were revealed in the CAP Used Car Performance Index, which tracks the sales achievements and sentiment of a regionally weighted sample of retail dealers each month. They are also mirrored in Black Book research over recent months.

Nevertheless, despite the backdrop of an unexpectedly strong December, retail activity did increase into January, as did the volume of used car disposals.

According to our disposals research, January’s volumes were several percentage points down on the previous year. So, with this in mind, how did the market fare in January? And, based on actual sales data, what evidence is there of price movements, particularly for vehicles that were around in significant numbers?

Sector-by-sector performance varied considerably. Low-mileage superminis performed strongly, but this trend was not replicated for higher mileage examples (31,000 to 50,000).

The lower-medium sector demonstrated considerable strength at both low (10 to 30,000) and average (31 to 50,000) mileages, while one area of the market that showed mixed fortunes was the upper -medium sector.

This has long been under pressure from reducing demand in the used market, largely relating to fuel economy issues. Disposal prices for vehicles between 51,000 and 70,000 miles showed some degree of weakness for the vehicles sampled and yet for higher mileage vehicles the picture was generally more positive.

We believe this is at least partly driven by a combination of affordable price and increasing confidence in the quality and reliability of higher mileage vehicles. Lower mileage – and therefore more expensive – examples fared less well. However, no identifiable trend is yet indicated because there are important exceptions. The success of the MPV sector continues to mean very high volumes entering the used market, although there are also suggestions within the industry that some use-choosers are moving out of these and into smaller cars.

Out of the five sectors considered, the MPV sector still provided some of the largest disposal volumes. In overall terms, the sample revealed that for low and medium mileage examples there was an uplift in prices into January. However, this was not found across the board, with one exception – the Vauxhall Zafira 1.6i Club experienced a fall in trade value of approximately £100. In contrast the Citroen Picasso 1.6i LX and 2.0 HDi SX, as well as the Renault Scenic 1.4 16V Expression, showed positive price movements of several per cent.

The volume of sampled disposals for the executive sector is inevitably limited, in comparison with more ‘traditional’ fleet cars. The sample indicated the overall trend for executive prices into January was negative. For example, Jaguar X-type 2.5 V6 models were available in significant numbers and disposal prices fell across the mileage spectrum.

So the market has begun 2005 by confounding the assumptions that every year is like the last. It further suggests that seasonal assumptions can be a risky business, especially when expected upswings are smaller than expected – or don’t happen at all.

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