Used-vehicle prices in October rose from the year-ago month but declined from September 2007, the nation's two largest auto auction companies say.
Last month, the average wholesale price of used vehicles sold at auction was $9,721. That was 2.3 percent higher than in October 2006 but 1.3 percent less than in September 2007, ADESA Analytical Services reports.
Manheim's Used Vehicle Value Index, which measures monthly price changes, stood at 113.9 in October. That is down from 115.8 in September and up from 112.0 in October 2006. The index is adjusted for model mix, vehicle mileage and time of year.
Tom Kontos, ADESA's executive vice president of customer strategies and analytics, says the year-over-year price increase reflects a limited supply of retired rental vehicles, not overall market strength.
More telling, Kontos says, is that last month's conversion rate at vehicle auctions fell to about 55 percent. That rate is calculated by dividing the number of vehicles sold by the number of vehicles offered. In October 2006, Kontos says, the conversion rate was about 60 percent.
Because General Motors and Ford Motor Co. are cutting back on sales to rental companies, Kontos says, the rental companies are keeping vehicles in service longer. That contributes to a shortage of late-model used vehicles at auction, driving up their prices and making the market seem stronger than it is, he says.
"Dealers who want late-model used vehicles are going to pay," Kontos told Automotive News. "The sales prices don't account for the cars that didn't sell because the prices weren't high enough."
Manheim chief economist Tom Webb says the number of used vehicles retailed by public dealership groups rose 2 percent in the third quarter from the year-ago quarter. He says used-vehicle sales fell 2 percent, and retail margins narrowed at those groups' dealerships that have been open at least a year.
Webb says those trends indicate downward pressure on prices in the future: "With dealers apparently tapping into their own margins to maintain an acceptable turn rate, it's not surprising they have become less aggressive bidders at auctions."