Lockdown pushes down used car sales in Q1

Published:  11 May, 2021

Prevailing lockdown conditions during the first part of the year helped push the used car market down by 8.9% during the first quarter of 2021, the latest figures from the SMMT have revealed.

A 27.1% drop in January and a 19.4% fall in February helped to depress the market for the whole period, although a total of 1,687,755 used cars were sold. In March, there was a 32.2% increase compared with March 2020, although this should be seen in the context of the market still being down 8.4% compared with the same month in 2019. Overall, Q1 2021 was 16.5% below Q1 2019, with 332,389 less sales.
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Looking at specifics, hybrid vehicle sales rose 16.6% to 27,694 while plug-in hybrid experienced a 32.1% uplift to 10,534 units. Battery electric vehicle sales were up 48.3% to 6,564. This represented 1.0% of the total market, an increase of 0.3% from Q1 2020. Petrol and diesel vehicles made up 97.1% of used vehicles sold during the period, a total 1,638,536.

Commenting on the figures SMMT Chief Executive Mike Hawes said: “These figures lay bare the turbulent impact of Coronavirus lockdowns on the used car market and, while March’s performance suggests there is some pent-up demand, this is against a weak month last year, so its true extent remains to be seen. The second quarter will see significant growth as last year’s April and May markets were severely limited by lockdown measures.”

Mike added: “It’s vital that the used market is rejuvenated to help sustain jobs and livelihoods, drive fleet renewal and support environmental progress. With car showrooms open again and the UK coming out of COVID-19 restrictions, the sector can look forward with renewed optimism.”

Also commenting, LKQ Euro Car Parts CEO Andy Hamilton observed: “The used car market had a tough start to the year, but the number of used vehicles that changed hands despite limits on test-driving is proof that demand is there for affordable private transport. And now that showrooms are open again, we can be more optimistic about the months ahead.”

On the potential impact on garages, he said: “As the second-hand market picks back up, we expect alternatively-fuelled vehicles to keep growing their share, which means the need for independent garages to get hybrid-ready is paramount. We’ve talked a lot about putting digitalisation at the top of the agenda for the independent aftermarket in 2021 – in terms of working on the latest vehicles, providing a top-quality customer experience and effectively marketing their services online.

Andy concluded: “Garages’ immediate priority as cars return to the roads ahead of a summer of staycations should be promoting vehicle health checks. Encouraging customers to bring their vehicles in for a once-over will also help make up some of the shortfall left by deferred MOTs, as the post-COVID-19 demand curve settles in.”

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