Used car market quarterly decline is reversed as more than two million vehicles are sold

Time 12 months ago

More than two million used cars were sold in the UK in the third quarter, reversing the decline of the previous two quarters, the SMMT revealed today (Nov 10).

The used car market rose by 4.4 per cent, with 2,168,599 transactions taking place between July and September and making it the busiest quarter since the end of 2016.

It was 92,217 more than the same period in 2019, with September recording the largest growth – up by 6.3 per cent.

However, despite the bounce back, the UK’s used car market is still down, with 1,070,941 fewer transactions over the first nine months –  an overall drop of 17.5 per cent.

And the industry body warned that with England now in a new lockdown and tougher restrictions plus ‘firebreaks’ across the devolved nations, sales in the fourth quarter are expected to be heavily affected.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: ‘With England entering a fresh lockdown and tighter Covid restrictions in place across the rest of the UK, the car is playing an even more important role in keeping society moving as public transport becomes less attractive for many.

‘It is encouraging to see used car sales returned to growth, but as the pandemic continues and outlets in many areas are being made to close again, the short-term outlook is less positive.

‘Given these premises are often proven to be Covid-secure, we need them to reopen quickly to protect vital jobs and ensure no further delay to the fleet renewal necessary to deliver environmental improvements.’

The top-selling used car during the third quarter was the Ford Fiesta, with 92,173 vehicles swopping hands.

Source: SMMT

Demand for pre-owned battery-electric vehicles (BEVs), which saw a drop of 29.7 per cent in the second quarter, recovered between July and September, soaring by 34.4 per cent.

Sales of BEVs have risen by 4.4 per cent in the year to date.

Meanwhile, plug-in hybrid sales went up by 35.7 per cent, with 10,040 changing hands.

Petrol and diesel cars saw a sales increase of 4.5 per cent and 2.6 per cent respectively – making up 97.42 per cent of all used transactions during the quarter.

Superminis were still the most popular segment with 698,587 sales, accounting for 32.0 per cent of transactions.

The lower medium sector was the next best seller with 27.0 per cent of the total market share.

The dual-purpose segment showed the largest percentage growth at 16.6 per cent, with a 13 per cent market share as more of these popular vehicles entered the used market.

The south-east region had the lion’s share of sales at 313,161.

AA Cars chief executive James Fairclough said: ‘Two factors are behind the strength of the sector. Hundreds of dealers have successfully made their dealerships Covid-safe environments, and adapted their businesses to enable them to deliver vehicles direct to customers’ homes.

‘In addition, we’ve seen a shift in drivers’ buying patterns, with many opting for the value of a used car rather than buying new.

‘Unfortunately, England’s second lockdown has hit the pause button on the progress, even though many dealerships continue to offer delivery.

‘While the prospect of a coronavirus vaccine has buoyed expectations for 2021, for now the industry is pinning its hopes on the government allowing forecourts to reopen at the beginning of December so that dealers will be able to make up for the time lost in November.’

Auto Trader director Ian Plummer said: ‘As retailers in England enter another national lockdown and businesses across the UK face increasingly tighter restrictions, growth in the used car market not only offers some much welcome news, it also underlines the far better position the industry is in today compared to March.

‘It’s promising to see sales of second-hand low-emission vehicles increase over the quarter. However, whilst they do represent a growing opportunity for retailers, they still represent a small percentage of the total market, typically those who can afford their steeper price tag.

‘It highlights that the government still has a long way to go in driving consumer adoption on a mass scale if it intends to bring forward the ban on selling new internal combustion vehicles to 2030.’

Karen Hilton, chief commercial officer at heycar, commented: ‘Exclusive research for heycar shows that two in five people are currently thinking of changing their car, with one in eight wanting a new car this side of Christmas and the same number wanting to buy in January.

‘Given the lead times on new cars at the moment, the used car market is primed to sweep up these customers. Those most actively looking to change car are in the 25-34 age bracket.

‘These potential customers say they want reliable transportation at this important time, that they are considering a treat after the uncertainties of 2020, that their families are getting bigger or that they are seeking greener options than their current models.

Source: SMMT

‘So, during the lockdown weeks in England, expect to see traffic to online dealerships and marketplaces continue to rise as people seek inspiration for their next big purchase.’

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Alex Buttle, director of, said: ‘This is welcome news but should come as no surprise. With an uncertain economic outlook, many people are moving away from buying a new car and choosing used to find more value.

‘Commuters are looking for alternatives to public transport to stay safe and they’re also turning to the second-hand market. This combined impact means resilient prices for car sellers with quality used vehicles – and this is borne out in our own data which showed a 25 per cent increase in September sales.

‘Consumers that usually go for new cars have woken up to the benefits of the used car market, and we expect strong market growth to continue long into the future. In highly uncertain times, that is real cause for celebration.’

John Bowman's avatar

John has been with Car Dealer since 2013 after spending 25 years in the newspaper industry as a reporter then a sub-editor/assistant chief sub-editor on regional and national titles. John is chief sub-editor in the editorial department, working on Car Dealer, as well as handling social media.

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