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UK used car sales declined 2.1% in 2018, reports SMMT

SMMT chief executive, Mike Hawes

A total of 7.9 million used car sales were completed in 2018 as the sector experienced a 2.1% decline in volumes, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has reported.

The SMMT said that 167,980 fewer cars had changed hands compared with 2017, with chief executive Mike Hawes urging Government to deliver “the right policies” to promote the sale of pre-owned alternative fuel vehicles, following a 26.9% rise in the sale of EVs and hybrids.

Conventional petrol and diesel models countered recent trends seen in the new car market, with petrol showing a full-year decline in sales of -4.2% and diesel holding steady with a 0.3% increase.

However, sales of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and battery electric cars rose to 106,658.

Hawes said: “It’s encouraging to see more used car buyers snapping up low-emission vehicles as supply grows – but those sales remain low as an overall proportion of the market.

“We still need the right policies and incentives from government to give new car buyers confidence to choose the cleanest petrol, diesel and electric models that best suit their needs, so that even more drivers can benefit from this exciting technology as it filters down to the used market in the coming years.”

Alternatively fuelled cars up 26.9% year-on-year as buyers opt for latest technology.

Despite a 3.7% decline in sales, superminis remained the most popular buy, with more than 2.7 million finding new homes in 2018 to end the year with a 33% market share.

Black cars remained a favourite among used buyers, with more than 1.6 million of them changing hands during the year, the SMMT said.

Silver and blue were the next most popular colours, maintaining a 59% market share between the top three.

Commenting on the used car sector’s decline of 2.1% in 2018, Nathan Coe, chief operating officer and chief financial officer at Auto Trader, said: “Whilst the impact of the ongoing fuel debate, WLTP regulations, and Brexit anxieties were keenly felt in the new car market, the used car market, which although marginally down on 2017, has shown resilience.

“It highlights that despite the dent in consumer confidence, demand remains high as consumers continue to change their cars on average every 3.3 years, which is still in line with the car parc turn trends we have seen over the last 10 years.

Coe said Auto Trader’s data had showed that, far from declining, the value of second-hand diesels were “not only growing, but growing at a faster rate than petrol”.

He added: “It’s encouraging that the growing level of consumer appetite in new AFVs is starting to trickle through to the used car market, albeit growth is off a very small base.

“The trend in AFVs is being mirrored on our marketplace. For over a year fuel related searches attributed to AFVs remained flat at just 4%.

“However, between July and October 2018, searches grew to 7%. At the current trajectory we anticipate one in ten fuel related searches will be for a zero-emission car by the end of the year.”  

Seán Kemple, director of sales at Close Brothers Motor Finance, said: “The most recent figures will not come as a surprise to dealers as the industry endures an attack from all angles.

"Consumer confidence has taken a massive hit, and we see the effects of this in all car sales – new and used.

"Brexit is a factor that’s absolutely having an impact on this. However, it is one of a number of factors and, importantly, these will continue to exist if and when we get over the problems associated with Brexit.

"There remains unprecedented levels of consumer confusion around different fuel types, compounding the complex decision about buying a car.

"During this extended period of uncertainty, dealers will be an even more valued source of expertise and reassurance to an uncertain consumer and this, along with having the right stock on the forecourt and being advertised online will be the key to bolstering the dealers’ bottom lines.”

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