Stability in the UK used car market is expected to be undermined by pre-registration activity, according to research from CAP Black Book Live.
CAP believes the manufacturer push for volume in the UK will have repercussions for the first six months of next year.
Despite the prediction for next year, CAP says weekly fluctuations in trade values in November have largely been in line with typical winter seasonal performance.
Fuelled by a level of retail consumer demand on the forecourt that has remained constant all year, dealer appetite for high quality three year old cars in particular is strong.
But those ‘ready to retail’ cars are increasingly rare as the market is flooded with ex-fleet cars up to 50 months old and with high mileages. Those cars attract high preparation costs for dealers, which eats too far into margins for comfort.
These factors are reflected in the auction hall where some cars that failed to sell first time are being re-entered anything up to 4 times before an acceptable bid is received.
However, dealers are still buying stock in preparation for the traditional January surge in retail activity, according to Black Book Live.
Pressure on prices from pre-reg
But there are signs that CAP’s original expectations that trade prices would perform strongly until at least the middle of next year may now have to be revised.
CAP’s Mike Hind said: “Our view now is that the only restrainer on a substantial rise in values during the first part of 2013 is pre-registrations and the pressure on prices created by a super-abundance of late plate cars.
“While we continue to expect prices to rise into January we are no longer as confident as we were that values will continue to increase into the summer.“This may be good news for hard-pressed dealers but fleet and contract hire disposers – and anyone else selling their cars into the trade – need to be aware that the on-going level of pre-registration activity will inevitably impact throughout the market.
“To put it in plain language, we are fast approaching the point where there is nowhere for late plate values to go without forcing a reduction further down the age bands. Looking at the state of the Eurozone economies, we see little likelihood of the pressure on Britain to soak up this new car supply easing any time soon.”
Hind said CAP is not being “alarmist”, because the company views that manageable levels of pre-registration are a perfectly sensible approach to car retail.
He said: “Not only does it keep people in work throughout the new car supply chain, but provides consumers with genuine value for money choices.
“Nor do we argue that rising used car trade values are automatically good news because, for dealers and consumers, a rising market simply means a more expensive market.
“But we do believe that price stability is desirable because it makes trading for everybody much smoother and enables a much clearer view of risk for all the businesses, from contract hire operators to insurers and banks, who are exposed to it.
“A rise in the volume of late plate stock is not the end of the world but after the stability of this year a return to the old norms of high depreciation will certainly come as a shock to the system. Suffice to say, this is one area on which we are keeping a very close watch.”
Used cars values close to peak
SMA Vehicle Remarketing also believes a rise in new car activity will start to feed through to affect used car prices next year.
With new car sales volumes rising by 5% in the year to date and with manufacturers keen to support the UK market, in light of significant sales falls across much of Europe, SMA are forecasting an increase in remarketing activity at the start of 2013. In particular, SMA expects to see the fleet sector being more active, taking advantage of support programmes created by manufacturers to ensure new car sales momentum gained in 2012 is sustained.
Eddie Thomson, group sales director at SMA Vehicle Remarketing, said: "From a remarketing perspective, optimising the timing of remarketing will be a balancing act. An increase in stock through remarketing channels is welcome because demand has been outstripping supply across our Group and I’m sure many others.
"However, this stock may come into market at the very time when used car activity is at a seasonal low and just when levels of new car support mean that private car buyers, who until recently were focused upon a used car, may now switch to buying a new model. Trade buyers are aware of this. Therefore, we expect the twin forces to create a small correction is used car values.”
However, SMA does not foresee values falling significantly, simply because of the long tail of stock shortages caused by the extended fall in new car sales through the double-dip recession.
Maximising used car values will continue to be about providence and condition. Thomson said: "Used cars may have been in short supply; however volume trade buyers have been working to buy for a shorter forecourt cycle. Buyers remain cautious. They will pay a premium for well-prepared stock that they can turn around quickly, but it must fulfil this requirement.
“As sellers look to maximise the value of product, having a cost/value estimate completed for every car (to include ‘time to cash’) is invariably a smart part of maximising value. Certainly the activity in our Technical Service centres shows that many sellers are taking advantage of this approach.”