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UK used car market bounces back after nine quarters of decline

UK used car sales grew 0.9% in Q3, bringing positive news for the sector following nine consecutive quarters of decline while also showing increasing demand for alternatively fuelled vehicles.

Used cars

Diesel, plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles up in the quarter, with petrol performance marginally down

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) data shows 2,076,382 transactions took place between July and September, 18,925 more than the same period in 2018. July posted the strongest performance since May 2018, but a quiet September flattened the Q3 performance.

In a marked contrast to the new car market, used petrol sales were flat with a slight drop of 0.2% while demand for diesel models was up 1.4% in the quarter with 858,442 changing hands – indicating that used buyers are still being drawn to diesels.

However, the biggest increase was seen in plug-in electric and hybrid models, which showed a solid increase of 13.0%, totalling 37,589 units and increasing their share of sales to 1.8% from 1.6% in Q3 2018.

Superminis remained the most popular segment, in line with the new car market, with 684,929 changing hands, accounting for 33.0% of transactions. The lower medium and upper medium segments were the next most popular, taking 27.0% and 11.7% shares respectively. Meanwhile, the dual purpose segment showed the largest percentage growth (15.2%) with 11.6% market share.

Black held its position as the number one colour among used car buyers, ahead of silver/aluminium and blue, with 57.1% of used cars sold in the third quarter clad in the top three colours. Orange overtook beige during the period to grab eighth place in the top 10, while bronze was the biggest grower, up 14.7%, but still representing just 5,132 of the 2.1 million cars sold in the quarter.

Despite the Q3 boost, year-to-date transactions are down 0.8% to 6,130,762 units, but the SMMT said the market remains at a relatively high level.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, commented: “Ongoing economic uncertainty and growing confusion over local Clean Air Zones make it difficult to predict the future. To make meaningful environmental gains, we need to get more of the latest, lowest emitting cars on to our roads replacing older ones quickly – and that means delivering the right conditions and policies to give new and used buyers confidence to invest in the vehicles that best suit their driving needs and budgets.”

Commenting on the figures,  James Fairclough, CEO at AA Cars, the AA’s used car website, said: “The new car market’s loss is proving the used market’s gain.

“As new car sales shrink, these robust used sales figures show many buyers are being strategic, and are seizing on the wide range – and quality – of second-hand cars currently for sale.”

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for nearly 20 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day.