Used car sales drop by 8.9 percent in 2021 Q1

12th May 2021, 6:51am
4 min read
Used car sales drop by 8.9 percent in 2021 Q1
  • Lockdown affects sales of used cars
  • Over 160,000 less cars sold compared to same period in 2020
  • Sales expected to boom in the summer

The impact of the third nationwide lockdown held in the first quarter of 2021 has been revealed in used car showrooms. Statistics released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show that the UK’s used car market declined by 8.9% in the first three months of 2021.

Stringent lockdown conditions at the start of the year, with millions of people under government instruction to stay at home, understandably had an effect on those looking to purchase a vehicle, with salerooms closed around the country.

A total of 1,687,755 cars were bought during this period, with the overall decline driven by big falls in January and February of -27.1% and -19.4% respectively.

March, in comparison, was strong with a 32.2% year-on-year rise, though this has to be taken with a pinch of salt given that March 2020 was when the Covid-19 pandemic escalated and the first lockdown was imposed. 638,570 cars were sold in March 2021, a -8.4% decline compared to the same month in 2019.

Overall, over 160,000 less cars were sold in the opening quarter of 2021 compared to 2020.

Despite the poor figures, demand for hybrid cars was strong. With increasing availability of second hand models, hybrid vehicle (HEV) sales rose 16.6% with a total of 27,694 units sold. Demand was also high for plug-in hybrids with a 32% sales increase, while battery electric machines also enjoyed a surge of 48.3%.

The figures also suggest that the used cars industry has a challenge on its hands to transition the entire used car sector away from traditional fuels. Second hand plug-in vehicles only represented one percent of the market, a 0.3% increase on the same period in 2020. Petrol and diesel sales represented 97.1% of all used car sales in quarter one.

Only two vehicle categories saw growth in the first few months of 2021. Luxury saloons and specialist sports cars saw sales increases of 10.3% and 5.4% respectively.

The trend towards smaller cars continued with Superminis enjoying a 31.4% share of all sales, while lower medium (27.2%) and dual purpose (13.1%) were also strong sellers. Over 70% of all used cars fell within these three categories.

Ford dominated the top of the market with the Fiesta and Focus the most common sales, followed by the Vauxhall Corsa and Volkswagen Golf.

The South East saw the highest rate of sales with 237,299 transactions, while black was the most popular colour, with 368,027 sales.

SMMT Chief Executive Mike Hawes explained:

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

However, Hawes believes a sales boom will follow this summer.

The second quarter will see significant growth as last year’s April and May markets were severely limited by lockdown measures.

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 restrictions, the sector can look forward with renewed optimism.

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Written by Richard Randle

Richard Randle is a motorsport PR professional working with the UK’s top racing circuits and the UK’s premier single-seater category, the BRDC British F3 Championship.