Official figures show used car sales continue to rise but figures mask wider slowdown

  • SMMT announces used car sale numbers for third quarter of 2022 which show 4.6% for 2023
  • Improved supply compared to last year has increased the  number of transactions
  • But dealers report wider slowdown in the used car market as prices begin to fall rapidly

Time 7:58 am, November 9, 2023

The number of used cars sold so far this year has now risen nearly 5% on 2022 as supply continues to increase, official figures reveal.

The latest sales stats from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show 5.56m used cars have now changed hands in the first three quarters of the year.

Reporting on the Q3 numbers, the SMMT said used car transactions rose to 1.88m in the period, up from 1.78m, an increase of 5.5%, on last year.

Used car sales have now grown every quarter with September representing the strongest month when sales grew 6.3%.

However, despite the overall rise in used car sales during the year of 4.6% – an increase of 244,094 units on 2022 – sales are still 9.3% lower than the pre-pandemic used car market.

Car Dealer sources have reported a significant drop in the market in October with prices falling rapidly, both in the trade, and in retail.

These official used car sales figures have been bolstered by the fact more supply is returning to the market after several years of reduced numbers and will not pick up on the current slowdown.

While the returning supply has helped car dealers in the first half of the year, a number of traders have now reported a quieter market as we approach the end of 2023 with used car prices dropping substantially.

One dealer, who did not want to be named, said: ‘The used car market has fallen off a cliff in October. It’s dead out there. There are very few customers and prices are in free fall. It’s scary.’

Jamie Caple, boss of used car dealer Car Quay, announced he’d slashed £100,000 off his stock in October to boost demand. 

Speaking on the Car Dealer Podcast two weeks ago (below), Caple said he felt the used car business was stalling.

Meanwhile, this week Cap HPI issued a warning that prices were dropping fast in November. They said there had been a call of 1.5% in the first few days of the month. That drop is off the back of a 4.2% fall in October, described as the worst performance for 12 years.

Cap HPI director valuations Derren Martin said: ‘The market is moving quickly, and the valuations team at Cap HPI is making thousands of adjustments to vehicle values on a daily basis.

‘Vendors and buyers must keep up to date on market movements through this transitional period.’ 

The figures the SMMT report on represent the overall picture and show a marginal improvement in sales volumes over the year.

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It said used battery electric vehicle sales doubled in the third quarter and now account for 1.8% of all transactions.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: ‘The used car market continues to grow strongly, with re-energised supply unlocking demand for pre-owned electric vehicles – the result being twice as many motorists switching to zero emission motoring in the quarter. 

‘Maintaining this momentum requires growth in the new car market, to boost supply to the used sector and cement this success. 

‘Equally important is the urgent need for charging infrastructure rollout so that all drivers can have confidence in being able to charge whenever and wherever they need.’

Ian Plummer, commercial director, Auto Trader added: ‘Against a very challenging backdrop of a cost-of-living crisis, high interest rates, and global instability, the used car market continues to demonstrate its resilience.

‘Although it’s not immune to these financial uncertainties, it’s largely been shielded from much of the broader economic disruption, and so we continue to see robust underlying consumer demand.’

Top 10 used car sales in Q3

Ford Fiesta
Source: SMMT

  1. Ford Fiesta – 79,756
  2. Vauxhall Corsa – 61,290
  3. Volkswagen Golf – 58,928
  4. Ford Focus – 58,431
  5. Vauxhall Astra – 41,898
  6. MINI – 40,811
  7. BMW 3 Series – 39,762
  8. Volkswagen Polo – 36,398
  9. Audi A3 – 31,496
  10. BMW 1 Series – 29,959

The SMMT said superminis remain the most popular used car vehicle type selling 607,484 units (5.8%) in the third quarter.

Black was the most popular colour for the 11th consecutive quarter and equates to more than a fifth of all sales 

James Baggott's avatar

James is the founder and editor-in-chief of Car Dealer Magazine, and CEO of parent company Baize Group. James has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years writing about cars and the car industry.

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