Supplier Tips

Tech founder believes physical car auctions have had a ‘Blockbuster moment’ and may never be same again

Time 3 months ago

Physical car auctions may have had their ‘Blockbuster moment’ and may never return to the way they did things before the pandemic.

Motorway CEO Tom Leathes believes the big auction houses have realised that they no longer need the costly infrastructure behind live sales and will accelerate their online future.

Just as Blockbuster was killed off by the rise in video streaming, Leathes believes there will be rapid change in the car auction world too.

‘If you look at the traditional auctions, and I don’t want to overgeneralise here because I know a lot of companies are doing a lot of different things, but I do think there is a big Frankenstein situation going on now where you’ve got a lot of physical auction infrastructure being videoed and placed online,’ he said.

‘If you look at other industries where similar things have happened, let’s take Blockbuster video. It’s Netflix that wins that because they built that from the ground up. 

‘When Netflix built that, they didn’t build a virtual shop that you walk into and wander around. It’s been built from the ground up for digital.’

Leathes was talking to Car Dealer Live for a promotional video about Motorway, an online auction that allows car dealers to buy cars directly from the public.


Motorway helps consumers list their cars for sale directly to the trade and dealers can bid for them in online sales. 

Leathes, a tech entrepreneur, launched the site three years ago and it now sells more than 1,000 cars a week.

Covid has accelerated the firm’s growth as dealers look at different ways to acquire stock and the growth came at a time that auctions across the country were forced to close and revert to online sales only too.

‘Covid has led to a transition from physical to digital that might well have taken three to five years before,’ said sales director James Bush.

‘We came at this from a tech-led perspective and we’re lucky that that’s the way the market is going.’

Leathes – who founded a broadband price comparison site that was sold to USwitch in 2011 – doesn’t think physical auctions will ever be quite as prolific as they were before the pandemic.

He said: ‘No one knows, but I think what you can definitely look at is that in the past, when things go online, they don’t go back. 

‘We’ve been lucky that we were 100 per cent digital from the start and everything we build is based on how it should work online. It might be hard for other businesses with lots of infrastructure already in place to make that shift.’

Motorway helps consumers list their cars with around 20 photos so dealers can see just what they’re buying online.

Leathes said: ‘We’re having to fight here to say it’s better to do this online. The only way to do that is to really deliver on it.

‘[The listings] are often better than what you can see in an auction, where you might have 20 seconds to walk around a car. A lot of it is making sure we’re building these profiles that are really super, super detailed to provide that confidence. 

‘But it’s also our one-on-one support for the dealers, so if they’re unsure they can talk to our team, we can check and always get more information from the seller if they need it. If things go wrong, we’re there for the dealer to make sure we right any wrongs that might have happened.’

Motorway has witnessed the surge in used car popularity first hand in the last year and doesn’t think this demand will be going away any time soon.

Leathes added: ‘We’ve seen this has been one of the strongest periods for used car demand, despite all of the problems with lockdown and everything that brings. We can’t see that going any other way than continuing as retail begins to open. 

‘We’re busier than we’ve ever been but a lot of the dealerships are still unable to fully trade. We are very much gearing up for that happening.’

Bush said the cheaper cars – under £8,000 – were in most demand on the site as people continue to move away from public transport, as well as sports cars.

He said: ‘The lower end stuff is doing really well. They’re fetching good prices. The other thing for now is sports cars. We are finding a lot of sports cars are doing really well. Also supercars. 

‘I think a lot of people have saved a lot of money throughout this lockdown and the previous two, they haven’t been able to go on holiday and they’ve probably been at home with their family up until this week so they’re treating themselves. 

‘Some of the cars we get through are unbelievable and the prices they go for are incredible.’

What is Motorway?

Motorway is a fast-growing online platform, helping dealers to buy used cars directly from private sellers in daily auctions.

Get more from Car Dealer

  • Premium stories
  • Used car data
  • Magazine early access

The three-year-old company helps private car sellers profile their car, then lists them in an exclusive online-only auction for dealers to bid.

The company has grown to more than 120 staff in its offices in London and Brighton, and is now delivering thousands of cars a month to more than 3,000 dealers nationwide.

Sponsored post: For more information visit

Car Dealer Magazine's avatar

Car Dealer has been covering the motor trade since 2008 as both a print and digital publication. In 2020 the title went fully digital and now provides daily motoring updates on this website for the car industry. A digital magazine is published once a month.

More stories...

Server 190