Study: New-car sales are likely to face more competition from late model used cars

St. Gallen, Switzerland. A glut of new cars and declining service orders are making used-car sales increasingly important to dealerships, according to the latest Fokus Management Consulting study. The study examines key trends in the used-car business in Europe's 10 core markets.

Which was made exclusively available to Automobilwoche, the study found that:

  • International sourcing of used cars will become more important.

  • The increasing age of Europe's population will solidly establish a late-model used-car segment.

    In the 10 markets surveyed, there are 29 million vehicle registration changes per year, and that number is increasing.

    According to the Fokus study, the import-export breakdown for used cars in the EU shows a growing internationalization of the business.

    Germany exported more than 185,000 used cars to other EU countries in 2004, putting it in first-place ahead of Belgium with 86,500 cars and France with 79,200.

    Spain takes the top spot for used-car imports with 71,500 vehicles, ahead of Germany with 70,000 and Italy with 59,500.

    And the end of the "location clause" for authorized dealers on October 1 ought to give the cross-border retail car trade another push.

    "The ability to freely establish branches will be felt in the used-car business through internationally active car dealerships and transnational cooperation," said Michael Funk, a Fokus consultant.

    Europe's ageing population

    In addition to changes in sales and marketing structures, demographics will have an impact on the used-car business in the middle term.

    According to a study by the European Commission, the number of people between 55 and 79 will grow to 38 million people by the year 2030.

    "This customer group, which values reliability, safety, and comfort at a low price, has so far been neglected in cultivating the market," said Funk.

    On the whole, there won't be a typical used-car customer in the future, he said. Instead, various trends can be discerned, such as bargain basement shopping, impulse buying and greater use of the Internet as an information source.

    Shifts are underway in used-car inventories, the study found. A rising number of leasing and rental car returns, factory cars and demonstration vehicles are leading to a permanent late model, used-car segment, Funk said.

    In Germany, the share of used cars under three years old that were marketed through dealerships rose from 28 to 32 percent between 2001 and 2003. These cars compete with new vehicles.

    The shape that the late model used-car business will take in the future will depend largely on whether American-style high new-car discounts take hold in Europe.

    Walter Gratzer, a partner in the St. Gallen, Switzerland,-based consulting firm, said: "If Europe were also to become the stage for American-style discount wars, the determining factors will change completely. In that case, new cars become appreciably cheaper than before, and once again more attractive than late-model used cars."

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