Auto Trader predicts new and used car market growth in 2024, with return to new car 'push'
According to Auto Trader, the new car market is set to return to a ‘push’ model in 2024, as manufacturers face a challenging combination of slowing retail sales, new regulatory targets, and increased competition from new entrants. As a result, significant discounting and finance offers to stimulate consumer demand – particularly for electric models - will continue next year, which the UK’s largest automotive marketplace predicts will fuel a 4% growth in new car sales: from an estimated 1.89 million in 2023, to circa 1.97 million in 2024.
As of next year, the strict ZEV Mandate will require 22% of all brand sales to be zero emission or face a fine of £15,000 for every non-compliant vehicle sold. However, the current average share of EV sales across brands is just circa 16%, and for some, it’s as low as 3%. The recent softening in retail EV sales, which as of November were down 29% versus 2019 and accounted for only 1 in 10 of all retail sales, further underlines the need for more offers to stimulate demand in the market next year.
Used car market to increase in 2024, fuelled by robust and resilient demand.
Despite the economic strain on UK consumers - inflation, interest rates, and potentially, a general election - Auto Trader predicts robust used car demand will continue in 2024 and result in a small market uplift. It forecasts transactions will increase to an estimated 7.24 million sales, up from the 7.17 forecast for this year.
Potential market growth will continue to be hampered by the 3 million ‘lost’ cars that weren’t sold between 20220 and 2022. Although it began to slowly return this year, current stock levels on Auto Trader are up just 2% on December 2022, and with significant variations across different market segments. Indeed, the volume of cars aged up to a year old has increased 32.2% over the same period (albeit down circa 50% on 2019’s levels), whilst those aged 1-3 and 3-5 have fallen -10.5% and -7.3% respectively.
Commenting on the forecast, Auto Trader’s Commercial Director, Ian Plummer, said:
“We’ve seen record breaking levels of engagement on our marketplace in 2023, both new and used sales have increased, and with car buyer sentiment remaining positive, we’re hopeful for another robust year for demand and overall transactions. Whilst there’s no doubt that 2024 will have its challenges, the used car market will be starting the New Year with some momentum behind it.
“Although new car retail faces uncertainty, manufacturers have been active in stimulating consumer demand, which we’re already seeing play through on our marketplace, with 16% more new car enquiries being sent to retailers. Coupled with increased competition from new entrants vying for UK market share, next year’s looking very attractive for car buyers wanting to make the electric switch.”
No crash in sight for used retail prices.
Although supply is returning, albeit slowly and inconsistently, it’s being outpaced by consumer demand, which according to Auto Trader’s data[i], is currently up 10.7% on December 2022. As a result of this imbalance, Auto Trader’s Market Health metric[ii] is up 8.5%, the highest rate since July. The strong market health is reflected in both the speed in which used cars are selling (32 days in November consistent with this time of year) and the increase in used transactions, which were up 4.7% year-to-date at the end of Q3 and have since continued at a similar pace (up circa 5%YoY in November).
Crucially, it’s helping to stabilise the recent softening in used car retail prices, which at the December mid-month point (£17,304) are down -3.9% on a YoY and like-for-like basis. This is marginally lower than the -3.8% YoY drop recorded in November, and on a month-on-month basis, is down just -0.6% which is in line with typical seasonal trends[iii]. Traditionally, as more buyers come into the market after the festive lull, retail prices pick back up at the beginning of the New Year, which should be a key consideration for retailers as they plan their Q1 forecourt strategy.
As a result of the 3 million cars missing from 2020-22, supply constraints will continue to flow through the market for years to come, and with Auto Trader’s consumer sentiment metrics pointing to sustained levels of consumer demand (78% of people plan to buy in the next six months, and eight in 10[iv] claim to be feeling at least as confident as last year in their ability to afford their next car) there are no reasons why used car retail prices should drop significantly anytime soon.
Data will be a vital currency in 2024.
Despite the underlying health of the market, there’s been a recent increase in unnecessary re-pricing activity, likely the result of wholesale trends. In fact, there are currently more than 47,000 used cars being advertised by c. 8,000 retailers on Auto Trader that are priced under their true market value, equating to over £32.7 million in missed profits: over £4,000 per retailer. This highlights, that with such nuance in the market, accurate and immediate data will be vital in 2024 to identify opportunities, safeguard risk, and secure profit.
“Forecasting the direction of the market and future trends is challenging, but as always, we are guided by the data, as should retailers. I’ve no doubt that accurate and immediate data will be a vital currency in 2024 to navigate what will be a more complex retail landscape. With such nuance and variation across segments in the used car market, rather than a broad-brush strategy, an almost forensic car-by-car approach will be essential to identify and secure the opportunities we expect for the year ahead.”
[i] Determined by levels of consumer engagement on its platform.
[ii] Assesses supply and demand dynamics to determine potential market profitability.
[iii] The 2011 – 2019 average movement between November and December is -0.5% month-on-month.
[iv] November 2022 n. 450 people
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