UK used car sales remained stable in Q1

15 May 2019

15 May 2019

The UK’s used car market remained stable in the first quarter of 2019, in stark contrast to the country’s new car registration figures.

The used car market dropped just 0.6% between January and March, according to figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). A total of 2,020,144 transactions took place, with segment and powertrain trends seen at the end of last year continuing into 2019. March was the busiest month of activity.

Demand for used cars therefore continues to be more resilient than for new cars, which declined 2.4% in the first quarter. This is in line with expectations that Brexit uncertainty would hit the new car market harder and that the used car market would be the automotive industry’s ′growth engine’ in the UK.

Fuel types

In contrast to last year’s figures, sales of used diesel-powered cars fell by 3.6% in the first quarter of 2019. However, sales of new diesel cars in the UK are down 18.4% to April, as the technology suffers from demonisation and tax increases.

New vehicle excise duty (VED) rates came into force for diesel cars in April 2017 and again in April 2018. The drop in used car sales therefore also reflects the lower number of new diesel cars registered coming into the used car market.

Petrol sales rose 1.1%, while demand for hybrid, plug-in hybrid and pure electric cars continued to grow, up 30.7%, with 32,272 models changing hands. Of these alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs), hybrids experienced the largest growth, up 34.2%, with pure electric vehicles rising 4.8% to 3,067 units. However, AFVs took just 1.6% of all transactions in Q1, with conventional petrol and diesel cars making up the other 98.3%.

Continuing trends

The Ford Fiesta remained the country’s leading used car, with 92,798 sold in the first three months of the year. The Vauxhall Corsa (79,424) and the Ford Focus (77,082) followed this.

Superminis remained by far the most popular used buy, with 676,395 of these smaller cars finding new owners – an uplift of some 6,000 units on Q1 2018. The dual-purpose segment, meanwhile, enjoyed the largest growth, demand rising 6.1%. Black was the favourite colour choice ahead of silver/aluminium and blue, with pink the least popular of all despite a 27.1% rise in transactions, the largest uplift of any colour.

The South East also saw the largest number of transactions, with 299,237 cars changing hands.

Reflecting trends in the new car market, Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said, ′Amid ongoing political and economic uncertainty, a stable used car market is good news for the automotive sector as it underpins crucial new car sales activity. Consumers are benefitting too, as more of the latest, safest and cleanest vehicles filter through to second owners. If we’re to accelerate this shift, and meet shared ambitions on air quality and climate change, a long-term government commitment to supporting take-up of the latest technologies in the new car market will be essential.’