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Auto Trader reports 19% increase in profits as earns more from dealers

Trevor Mather, Auto Trader

Auto Trader made an average 10% more from each of its dealer customers in the last financial year.

The total made from each forecourt per month went up from £1,384 per month to £1,546 in the financial year to March 31, although the number of forecourts’ stock advertised on the website was down slightly. It expects revenue from dealers to increase.

Its profit margin was up 6% to 67% as revenues increased from £281.6 million in 2016 to £311.4m (9%), and operating profits were at £207.2m, up 19% from £171.3m.

Trevor Mather (pictured), Auto Trader Group chief executive, said: "We have delivered another year of strong growth.

“With consumers spending more than double the time researching their next car online than they do offline, we have strived to create greater transparency and therefore trust in our marketplace, benefitting consumers, retailers, and manufacturers alike.

“This in turn continues to increase the value we deliver, making the car buying journey a simpler, more enjoyable and trusted process.

"After a number of years of near uninterrupted growth, and despite the exceptionally high performing first quarter of the calendar year, the industry now expects new car registrations to plateau or decline but continues to anticipate growth in used car transaction volumes.

"The new financial year has started well, and despite the wider political and economic uncertainty, the board is confident of delivering its growth expectations for the coming year.

“We remain focused on enhancing the value of our marketplace and continuously improving the products and services we offer for consumers, retailers and manufacturers."

2016 highlights

- Cross-platform minutes per month increased by 12% to 582 million (2016: 521 million) and cross platform visits were up 16% to 55.4 million per month (2016: 47.9 million)

- Advert views per month increased by 2% to 247 million (2016: 243 million)

- Number of retailer forecourts advertising on Auto Trader down 2% at 13,296 (2016: 13,514) predominantly in smaller and non-car related markets

- Physical car stock on site up 3% to 450,000 (2016: 437,000) on average

- Average revenue per retailer (ARPR) forecourt per month up £162 to £1,546 (2016: £1,384)

- Auto Trader launched new products for both consumers and retailers, focused on improving trust and transparency in the marketplace, including dealer reviews, basic vehicle checks, video adverts and more recently, our price indicator product

- Completed acquisition of Motor Trade Delivery in April 2017.

In terms of 2017 and 2018, Auto Trader’s view reflects that expressed by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders - after a number of years of new car market growth, registrations are expected to plateau or decline in 2017.

But Auto Trader expects greater used car transaction volumes stimulated by the growth in new car sales.

“Retailer forecourt numbers are set to be flat to marginally down, with overall stock levels expected to continue to grow.

“ARPR improvement is expected to return to 2016 growth levels at or above £130 per month, with the majority of growth from the product lever,” the company said in its financial statement.

“This reflects the recent bundling of products into our new selling package levels as well as upselling of the new advanced and premium levels.”

Analyst's view

One analyst set a note of caution for the year ahead.

Mike Allen, at Zeus Capital Research, said: “The company’s outlook statement highlights the slowing new car market, with car registrations expected to plateau or decline in 2017, a trend reflected in the latest SMMT data which showed vehicle registrations down -8.5% in May.

“Whilst Auto Trader is focused on the used car market, we are conscious of any negative consumer sentiment that could also impact the second-hand market.

“In our view, with the market slowing in 2017 and dealer profitability being squeezed, we believe Auto Trader may find it increasingly difficult to execute its strategy of continued upselling; it is targeting an £130 increase in monthly average revenue per retailer in 2018.”

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