Big five European used-car markets see improvement in fourth quarter

15 February 2024

Five of the biggest European used-car markets recorded growth in the last quarter of 2023. Autovista24 special content editor Phil Curry, examines the latest data and how each market performed across the year.

France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and the UK all saw used-car gains between October and December. Buyers flocked to take advantage of a wider range of cheaper models as supply issues eased.

However, despite the fourth-quarter positivity, each market experienced differing fortunes as the months rolled past. Some gathered momentum, while others saw growth slow in December.

The latest figures mean four of the five countries ended 2023 with overall improvements in their used-car markets. France fell just short, despite staging an impressive comeback in the second half of the year.

As each new-car market is forecast to experience registrations growth in 2024, even more used options will become available. This means markets will have a stable base to build on as the year continues.

Struggles in Spain

The Spanish used-car market struggled in the last quarter of the year, with October lifting its final result, according to figures from GAVNAM. Year on year, transactions grew by 7.9% in the month, but results remained stable in November (up 0.3%) before declining in December by 2.5%.

This meant the market recorded a 1.6% improvement over the fourth quarter of 2022. The country’s used-car market has stagnated since the first quarter of 2023, with mixed results in the last half of the year balancing out some of the highs. So, Spain saw transactions grow by 2.6% compared with 2022, with over 1.9 million units changing hands.

Data from GAVNAM reveals that 55.3% of exchanged used cars were powered by diesel in 2023. This was followed by petrol, which held 37.2% of the market. Battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) saw transactions improve by 6.6%, while only accounting for 0.6% of the used-car market. Plug-in hybrid (PHEV) transactions were up 24.8% at the end of the year, accounting for 0.9% of the total in 2023.

Spain is also struggling with the age of its car parc, and the 2023 results did not help. The average age of used passenger cars sold last year was 11.1 years old, in line with 2022 figures. GAVNAM reports that 40.3% of the Spanish used-car market is over 15 years old, highlighting a need for more effective strategies to renew the country’s fleet.

France falls short

The French used-car market also struggled in 2023, although the country turned things around in the second half of the year, according to AAA Data. In the last quarter, France posted a 7.2% rise in used-car transactions, thanks to stronger results in October (up 7.7%), November (up 6.1%) and December (up 7.8%).

However, this was not enough to bring the country’s annual figures into growth. The market ended 2023 down by 0.2% year on year, with the first seven months of declines dealing irreversible damage.

The market was just 8,404 units away from equalling its 2022 figure, which itself was significantly down on 2021. This meant the end of 2023 hit a total of almost 5.2 million transactions.

Across the year, AAA Data states that transactions of used cars over 10 years old increased by 1%, to represent 48% of the used-car market. Models between five and 10 years recorded growth of 3%, taking a 21% market share. Meanwhile, cars less than five years old saw transactions drop 4%, although they made up 31% of the market.

AAA Data is forecasting moderate growth in 2024. The used-car market will be more susceptible to surges in fuel prices, low-emission zones, and price differences between powertrains.

Yet there are also positive developments. Improvements encompass greater purchasing power as the cost-of-living crisis eases slightly, new incentives and the reduction in the minimum driving age to 17.

UK sees BEV boost

The UK recorded four straight quarters of growth in 2023, with the country’s used-car market growing by 6.9% in the last three months of the year.

Of the three, December was the best month, according to data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), with transactions up by 12.4%.

Both November and October recorded more subdued growth, with an 6.9% and 3% improvement on 2022’s numbers respectively.

The UK used-car market improved by 5.1% across 2023, as transactions bounced back following a supply-constrained 2022. BEV transactions almost doubled, rising by 90.9% to a record 118,973 units. This only equates to a 1.6% share of the overall UK used-car market. However, this is up on the 0.9% hold in 2022.

The SMMT highlights that the rise is in line with increases in the new-car market, and demonstrates a ‘keen demand for zero-emission motoring in this naturally more affordable price bracket.’

Meanwhile, sales of PHEVs and full hybrids (HEVs) improved by 40% and 25.1% respectively. Therefore, electrified vehicles represented 5.6% of the market, up from 4% in 2022. 

‘A healthy new-car market is key to driving choice in the used sector and it is great to see record numbers of second and third owners benefitting from the growing availability of electric vehicles,’ commented SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes. ‘The demand is there, but to sustain it we must enable every motorist to make the switch.’

Petrol and diesel, however, remained the most dominant powertrains in the country. A total of 6,827,466 units changed hands in 2023, amounting to 94.3% of the overall market.

Petrol transactions improved by 4.5% across the year, while diesel bucked the trend seen in the new-car market and improved by 2.1%. This indicates that there is still a demand for the powertrain in the UK.

Growth slows in Italy and Germany

Italy benefited from two strong months in the fourth quarter to bring an 8.7% growth across the three months, according to data from ANFIA.

The 11.4% rise in October and 11.7% increase in November, propelled the market. Meanwhile, the more modest 2.5% gain in December helped the country achieve nine consecutive months of positive figures.

The country experienced a blip in March when figures dipped 7.8%. However, with 11 months of growth, Italy saw transactions rise 6.6% in 2023, as around 5.06 million passenger cars changed hands.

Germany was the best-performing market of the big five in the fourth quarter, with used-car transactions up 9.1%, according to figures from the KBA. Just as in Italy, the country experienced two strong months in October (up 17.2%) and November (up 8.7%). December was then more modest, with a 1.2% improvement.

This meant the country saw more than 6.03 million cars change hands across the year, up by 6.9% from 2022. With the country experiencing new-car market disruption in 2023, the improvement in the used-car segment highlights that demand for vehicles is still present.

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