UK used car market dips slightly as diesel sales remain strong

14 November 2018

14 November 2018

Britain’s used car market remained near recent record highs in the third quarter of 2018, despite a slight drop in sales.

According to new figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), sales of used cars in the UK fell by 2.1% in the three months between July and September this year, with 2,057,457 transactions recorded. August was the standout month of this period, with 708,614 units sold.

Conventional petrol and diesel engines made up more than 98% of all Q3 transactions, with around 850,000 diesel vehicles changing hands. While new diesel sales are plummeting, used sales of the technology continue to remain fairly stable, just 2.6% down compared to Q3 2017. This indicates that new vehicle excise duty (VED) rates introduced on diesels in 2017 and 2018 have had the biggest impact on sales, while demonisation of the fuel in the press has little effect.

This creates a worrying trend, as many of the diesels sold on the used car market will utilise older engine technology. Recent studies by the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) has shown that current engines are much cleaner in their emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx). However, these are the vehicles being penalised off the roads. The lower sales of cleaner diesels mean fewer units will be available for the used market as a result.

Petrol car sales were down by 2.3%, again remaining fairly stable compared to last year. However, buyers continued flocking to hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles, with just shy of 30,000 transactions in the quarter. Demand surged 28.6% as consumers took advantage of the increasing range of ultra-low and zero-emission cars entering the second-hand market, with pure electric cars posting an 8.3% jump in sales over the same period.

In the third quarter, sales of Dual Purpose and Executive-segment cars both grew by 6.2% and 2.4% respectively. Meanwhile, Superminis remained the most popular used car buy, despite falling 3.3%, with 682,729 sold during the last three months and more than 2 million so far this year. In the overall year to date, more than 6.1 million cars have found new homes, supported by bumper summer months that included the busiest June on record.

Black remained the favourite car colour for the third successive quarter with 431,000 sold, followed by silver and blue. Orange showed the strongest growth, with sales up 9.9% while, in contrast, green’s popularity fell the fastest, with 1996’s most popular new car colour posting a 17.1% drop in sales.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said, ′It is encouraging that the UK used car market has remained solid in the third quarter of the year, and good news that there is growing enthusiasm for alternatively powered vehicles. The right policies and incentives from the government are needed to encourage new car buyers to take up the latest, cleanest petrol, diesel and electric models that best suit their driving needs. This would be the best way for these advanced technologies to filter through to the used market, helping to accelerate fleet renewal to improve air quality and meet climate change goals.’