Positive start to 2024 for major European used-car markets

13 May 2024

Following years of disruption, used-car transactions in Europe’s biggest automotive markets have started 2024 on a positive footing. Autovista24 special content editor, Phil Curry, explores the figures.

France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK all saw year-on-year transaction growth between January and March as buyers prioritised affordability. However, just as in the new-car market, four countries saw transaction trouble in March. Only the UK posted growth in the month.

This is the first time since 2021 that all the big five European used-car markets have started the year with positive results. While Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK saw improved transactions in the first quarters of 2022 and 2023, France struggled.

However, with new-car registrations increasing across all markets, stock is flowing into the used-car sector. This provided more opportunities for each market to keep growing in the months ahead.

France flourishes

The French used-car market kept its momentum from the second half of 2023. It grew 1.9% year on year in the first quarter of 2024. A total of 1,336,366 transactions took place in the three months according to AAA Data.

January saw growth of 3.5% with 424,920 units changing hands. In February, 443,813 passenger car transactions took place, up by 6.2%. Yet the early Easter in March impacted the market, with a drop of 3.1%, as 467,633 used cars were exchanged.

Growth has so far been driven by cleaner vehicles. Cars with the country’s ‘Crit’Air 0’ stickers, made up of zero-emission models including battery-electric vehicles (BEVs), saw transactions increase by 92% in January. This was followed by an improvement of 77% in February and 49% in March.

Vehicles conforming to ‘Crit’Air 1’, including plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), Euro 5 and Euro 6 petrol models, also performed well. Transactions of these vehicles increased 15% in January, 21% in February and 10% in March. This made ‘Crit’Air 1’the strong used-car segment.

According to AAA Data, the turnover of BEVs is accelerating in the used-car market. Models first registered in 2017 were resold in less than 60 days last year, on average. With France implementing fresh criteria for new BEV subsidies, some buyers could turn to the used market for greater affordability.

Spain shows strength

Spain’s used-car market grew by 2.7% in the first quarter, according to figures published by industry association GANVAM. The country saw 475,692 models change hands during the three-month period, Autovista24 analysis shows.

Yet the country struggled in March, with the early Easter impacting sales. A total of 158,694 transactions took place, down 10.9% on the figures reported in the same month last year. However, this decline was not enough to derail the quarter.

January saw a strong performance, with 155,888 transactions taking place, up 17% year on year. February was also a good month for the Spanish used-car market, with 161,110 models changing hands, up 6.6% compared to the same month last year.

Ageing car parc

Thanks to increased de-fleeting, transactions of used cars up to five years old grew by more than 4% in the first quarter. These models made up 26.4% of the market according to GANVAM.

However, Spain has the oldest car parc in Western Europe. According to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), cars were 13.9 years old on average by the end of 2022. Models over 15 years of age made up more than 40% of transactions in the first quarter. This totalled 195,836 units, up by 6.4% year on year, according to GANVAM.

Transactions of used diesel vehicles accounted for 53.8% of the used market in the first quarter, although sales were down by 1.3% in the period. Petrol cars saw a 2.5% rise, with 179,098 units changing hands.

BEVs also improved with 3,967 transactions representing a 51.4% year-on-year rise. Yet this only equated to 0.8% of the total market in the quarter. Sales of used PHEVs rose 54.5% in the first three months of 2024, with 5,915 units. This means that in the first quarter, electric vehicles made up just 2.1% of the Spanish used-car market.

The country is struggling to entice buyers into BEVs and PHEVs, with registrations of new models also lower than the EU average. This slow uptake could affect supply in the used-car market in years to come.

According to ACEA, EVs made up just 0.4% of Spain’s car parc in 2022. Unless more drivers switch to plug-in technology, these powertrains will continue to struggle in the country’s new and used markets.

Growth in Germany

Germany saw transactions rise by 7.9% year on year in the first quarter, according to figures from the Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt (KBA). In total, 1,626,229 transactions took place. A good performance in the first two months of the year helped offset a slight drop in March.

January saw 527,258 transactions recorded, an increase of 7.5% year on year. In February, Germany’s used-car market received a boost, with 19.8% more exchanges taking place as 546,783 passenger cars changed hands. The country’s figures were down by 1.5% in March, as the early Easter impacted figures, with 552,188 sales.

The KBA does not dissect transactions by powertrain, making it difficult to see how each technology is performing. However, the German government did abruptly end purchase incentives for new BEVs in December last year. Therefore, it is likely that many private buyers looking for a zero-emission vehicle will start to consider the used-car market.

Germany had just over 1.4 million BEVs on its roads at the end of 2023. So, there is likely to be a good supply of stock heading to the second-hand market in the coming months.

Italy improves

In Italy, used-car transactions were up by 8.5% in the first quarter. A total of 1,411,675 transactions took place, according to industry body ANFIA.

The country saw a strong January and February, with used-car sales up 15.5% and 14.3% respectively. This helped to offset a slight drop in March, as 482,128 cars changed hands, a drop of 2% year on year.

This meant that the country’s used-car market outpaced its new-car market in terms of growth. In the same period, registrations of new models increased by 5.7%, with both January and February helping to offset the effects of the early Easter in March.

UK bucks the trend

Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show that the UK was the only market to achieve transaction growth in every month of the quarter. This was an impressive performance given the fewer working days in March.

The country’s new-car market also bucked a trend of declines seen in other big European markets in March. However, this was likely due to the ‘plate change’ effect.

This may have increased stock levels on the used-car market as drivers and fleets traded in vehicles. Although, without the prestige of a new numberplate in the used sector, the growth in March was organic, highlighting the strength of the market.

In total, 1,967,923 models changed hands in the first three months of the year, a 6.5% rise on the same period in 2023. In January, transactions were up 5.1%, reaching 650,747 units. Figures improved by 7.7% in February with 653,484 sales, while in March, 663,692 models changed hands, up by 6.9%.

Autovista24 analysis shows that petrol-powered cars led the market in the first quarter, with 1,130,396 transactions equating to growth of 7.9%, and taking a 57.4% market share. This was an increase of 0.7 percentage points (pp) year on year.

Diesel transactions fell 1.2% in the same period, as 697,718 models were sold. This led to a market share drop, from 38.2% between January and March 2023 to 35.5% in the first quarter of 2024.

Used BEVs performed well in the first three months of this year. Autovista24 analysis of numbers reported last year suggests that the BEV market increased by 58.1% to 41,505 units. This was up from the 26,257 transactions recorded in the first quarter of 2023.

With PHEV transactions improving by 42.2%, this means that EVs saw 52.1% more transactions, according to Autovista24 analysis. Plug-ins took 3.3% of the used market in the first quarter, up by 1pp on the same period last year.

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