Opinion: Why used car sales matter to manufacturers

All of a sudden, used cars, for years the Cinderella of the automotive sector, toiling away in the basement keeping the bulk of the nation mobile and supporting the sale of new ones, are making headlines. Most of them concern telephone number sales rises but only because last year’s covid-capped figures were so dismal.

Digging through all the numbers and percentages, two that fascinate me, however, aren’t so big. The first is the 1.3% rise in sales of used plug-in hybrids, a figure comparable with the number of new plug-ins bought in 2015 and second, the fact that just 12.7% of all cars sold were less than three years old. It’s a reminder, if any were needed, that used car buyers buy used to save money first and the planet – well, if we’re honest, a distant last.

It’s something legislators and car makers are going to have get their heads around. BEVs, PHEVs and the rest may be the latest shiny baubles but down in the basement, the rest of us, straining under the pressures of rising taxes, energy bills, house prices and fuel prices, have only one thing on our mind – value for money. Throw in the spectre of inflation in the not too distant and that search is only going to intensify.

This matters because, as car makers set course for the future, they risk leaving behind their used car customers. Their used car customers? That’s right, they may make new cars but the people who enable them to do so are the people who buy them after their first owners have got tired of them.

In short, used cars make the automotive world go around. Ensuring today’s exciting new models are relevant to their second owners and beyond will be key to keeping that world turning.