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Used car retail sales slow down

Dealers experienced a slowdown in used car retail sales in October.

Consistent growth has been achieved by many dealers during the course of 2004 and retail sales figures still improved in four regions during October, as performance slipped elsewhere, according to the latest CAP Used Car Performance Index.

Dealers are beginning to feel the winter pinch as short days, poor weather and the impending expense of Christmas diverts retail customers away from the forecourt, it says.

The index – based on a regionally weighted and representative sample of retail used car dealers - is measured each month as part of the research process for CAP Black Book, used across the automotive sector as the benchmark guide to current used car values.

October – the latest fully analysed month – saw Scottish dealers turning in the best performance, although even here fewer retail sales were achieved. Their Welsh counterparts suffered the biggest reduction in retail business. In England, dealers in the east enjoyed the best results with those in the north west trailing furthest behind, compared with September.

These latest figures tally consistently with the recent Used Car Performance Index survey which revealed dealers’ views on the best and worst months for retail sales performance. This revealed a sharp dip towards the end of the year before business picks up in January.

Dealer confidence for the immediate weeks ahead confirms expectations that business will slow further, with dealers nationwide expecting further retail sales reductions. A small majority of those in the north east and south west, however, reported projections that sales would increase during November.

The strongest expectations of a retail business slowdown were reported by dealers in the east – despite their October success. Other regions with a particularly cautious outlook were the East Midlands, north west and Yorkshire and Humberside.

However, other research for CAP Black Book reveals strong trade activity with dealers beginning to focus behind the scenes on building stock for the anticipated January upswing.

Daren Wiseman, managing editor of CAP Black Book, says: “It would be a mistake to view the latest Used Car Performance Index as a gloomy indicator of market performance. Dealers have enjoyed a successful year and are already paving the way for more success in the New Year.”

Used car retail sales performance – regional highlights October 2004

  • Eastern: A turnaround in performance on the previous month saw dealers here achieving the second best performance nationwide. They do, however, have the highest expectations of a slowdown in retail business over the coming weeks.
  • East Midlands: Dealers here maintained the success they began achieving in September, after a bumpy summer, turning in October’s third best figure nationally. Half of dealers questioned increased retail sales.
  • North east: This region is unique in both managing to increase retail sales during October and with 40 per cent of the sample maintaining confidence that business would continue to improve through November.
  • Northern Ireland: Dealers in Northern Ireland have been performing well for several months and maintained September’s strong performance into October. In confidence terms half of the sample expected a downturn in the weeks following.
  • North west: Dealers here enjoyed a successful summer before retail sales performance faltered and recovered briefly. For October, the sample reported the second worst results nationally and the joint second lowest confidence levels for the immediate future.
  • Scotland: The UK’s star performing region in October, with half of dealers questioned reporting improved sales on September – when they were already achieving the second highest retail sales. In confidence terms, although the overall expectation is for reduced success, some Scottish dealers continue to expect immediate growth.
  • South east & London: Stability remains the feature of retail used car sales performance here with dealers generally maintaining strong results. Sentiment is also among the least negative nationally, with half of the sample expecting more of the same, rather than a downturn.
  • South west: Expectations of decline into October were borne out by an overall reduction in retail sales. However, sentiment here is the most positive around the UK, with only one in ten dealers expecting further reductions in retail used car sales.
  • Wales: The worst performing region in October, Welsh used car dealers suffered the biggest downturn in the survey. In terms of confidence, expectations are of a further slowdown in the coming weeks.
  • West Midlands: A run of exceptionally good results for dealers here ended in October with only 20 per cent of dealers achieving increased sales. In confidence terms, however, this remains one of the most positive regions compared with the rest of the country.
  • Yorkshire and Humberside: Another disappointing month for dealers here saw retail sales slip overall for half of those in the sample. The majority also expect a further reduction in retail business during the coming weeks.
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