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UK used car sales recover to pre-recessionary levels

Used Car sales hit 7.1 million units in 2012, outpacing new car sales by climbing 6.4% and returning to pre-recession levels according to figures from the BCA Used Car Market Report.

The 2013 BCA Report also reveals that the used car market reached a record high in terms of value in 2012, at £38.1 billion, outperforming the total new car market value by £5.8 billion.

In particular sales of younger used cars (0-2 years) increased significantly, rising by 18.6% to 762,000 and reversing a three year trend of falling volumes in this age sector.

BCA commissioned BMRB International to carry out face-to-face interviews with 4,000 car owners in the UK to identify their priorities and experiences in buying and owning a used car – what convinced them to buy their latest used car, what influenced their choice of seller, what type of car they might buy next, who they might buy from and when.

Detailed analysis of the BCA Used Car Report 2013 will be available from author  Professor Peter Cooke at the AM Used Car Market Conference in Coventry on October 13. For more information including details on how to book click here or email or call 01733 395133.

Trevor Finn, chief executive of Pendragon, commenting on behalf of the group's volume division Evans Halshaw, said: “As the latest report from BCA indicates, motorists continue to recognise the value offered by used cars as they provide a viable alternative to new ones, especially in the current economic climate.

"The fact that the used car market has substantially out performed new car sales is therefore no surprise. Used volumes grew by 7%, like for like, in 2012 and have grown by a further 9% in the first half of 2013. This highlights the continued confidence in the reliability of older cars.”

Key findings

  • The ratio of used car sales to new car sales increased for the third year running to 3.5:1 in 2012
  • Sales of 0-2 year old cars rose by 18.6% in 2012, increasing their share of the used car market -  up to 10.7%
  • Sales of cars in the 3-5 year age group also grew by 6.1% and sales of 6-8 year old cars rose for a fifth consecutive year
  • Sales of vehicles of over 9 years old remained flat
  • Hatchbacks increased in popularity in this year's BCA survey with 4% more car owners (51%) choosing this option at the expense of saloons which saw their market share drop by a similar amount to 22%
  • MPVs' share of the used car market slipped to 7% from 10% a year earlier
  • Diesel-engined cars’ share of the used car market rose 3% to 36%  - a level last seen in 2010, as growing numbers of diesels entered the used car supply chain
  • Three quarters of motorists bought a used car rather than new in the past two years with 22% of motorists viewing used cars as offering better value for money than new
  • But low or 0% finance would tempt 17% of potential car buyers to 'certainly' consider a new car instead of used next time they change. A further 23% said it was 'quite likely' they would give a buying a new car some thought.
  • There was a rise in the number of car owners who said they will 'certainly' or 'quite likely' buy a car in the next 12 months – up 4% to 14% year on year
  • Only one in 10 respondents said they would 'buy the same type car again', a 50% drop over the past three years
  • Four out of five respondents said they had already taken steps to cut their car running costs – 'keeping tyres at the right pressure', driving more slowly', 'avoiding heavy braking', 'accelerating less quickly' and having 'a more fuel efficient car' at the forefront of measures adopted
  • Unsurprisingly, price is the biggest influence on the way used car buyers approach their search for a suitable car, nearly two thirds (64%) of motorists cited it as the key influence followed by brand (39%) and then model (37%)

The Report, authored by Professor Peter Cooke of the Centre for Automotive Management, University of Buckingham Business School, says that lower inflation, lower fuel costs, rising employment and a more stable economy helped restore car buyers' confidence somewhat in 2012.

However, the long-term impact of the fall in new car sales during and immediately following the recession can still be seen, with the average age of vehicles on UK roads reaching a 30 year high at 7.59 years.

There has also been a 5% rise in households without a car, with London recording a 12% increase in ‘no-car’ families.

In terms of sales, dealers continue to dominate the used car market, accounting for 57.2% of all used cars sold representing a massive 74.4% of the total market value.

Dealers sold 4.07 million used cars last year, a rise of 8.9% and, reflecting the changing age profile of the used car market, there was a greater focus on older used cars to mitigate the uncertain supply of younger vehicles.

Dealer sales of 6-8 year-old cars continued to grow in 2012, up 125,000 units (11.1%) to 1.25 million, while more cars aged over 9 years were sold by motor retailers last year than cars aged under two years.

Tim Naylor, editor of the annual BCA Used Car Market Report, said: “Our research shows that the used car market has undergone some very subtle yet significant changes over the last 12 months.

“Customer expectations in the used car buying process continue to climb and there are changes in how information is gathered when it comes to making used car buying decisions.

“Overall, there is a little more confidence expressed by motorists in terms of the economic climate, the products they are buying and the service they are receiving.

“With improving economic indicators, we could see more people looking to replace their used car with a better used car. The number of motorists saying they ‘certainly’ or ‘quite likely’ will buy a car in the next 12 months rose from 10% last year to 14% this year (a 40% rise in real terms).”

However, the recession has taken its toll on car ownership – in the past three years the number of households without a car has risen from 23% to 28% (a 21% rise in real terms.)

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