Price growth accelerates in March as demand reaches record levels
According to the latest results from the Auto Trader Retail Price Index, which is based on daily pricing analysis of circa 900,000 vehicles, the average price of a used car in March was £14,110; a year-on-year (YoY) and like-for-like increase of 7%. As well as the 12th consecutive month of price growth, it marks an acceleration on the 6.6% recorded in February; the first monthly increase in the rate of growth since October 2020.
The price performance has been fuelled by supply and demand dynamics in the market, particularly the current record levels of consumer demand. In fact, Auto Trader saw 69.7 million cross-platform visits to its marketplace in March, which is the highest ever recorded. It surpasses the previous high of 67.1 million visits in August 2020 and represents a 27% increase on March 2019. What’s more, March also saw a record amount of time consumers spent on Auto Trader, totalling 10.9 million hours throughout the month, which is an increase of 22%.
This increased activity resulted in a 91% growth in leads being sent to retailers last month when compared with March 2019. As well as highlighting the strong demand, it reflects the change in buyer behaviour of making contact before visiting a forecourt.
Record demand gives ICE prices a boost, but premium EVs struggle to match supply
The impact of supply and demand dynamics on used car pricing can also be seen at a more granular level. Last month, demand for used petrol and diesel jumped from -2.1% YoY and -5.6% in February, to a very robust 35% YoY and 32.9% respectively (the first YoY increase in diesel demand since October 2020), far outstripping levels of supply, which grew just 0.4% YoY and fell -14.2% respectively.
As a result of this balance readjustment, March saw the average price of a used petrol increase 5.8% YoY (£12,705), which although is flat month-on-month, follows four consecutive months of easing price growth. The positive effect on diesel was more pronounced, with average prices increasing 8.9% YoY (£14,708), which was an acceleration on the already strong 8.4% recorded the prior month.
Similarly, demand for volume electric vehicles (EV) shot up from 18.5% YoY in February, to 131.6% last month, overtaking the strong levels of supply at 117.8%. As a result, average prices increased 9.3% YoY (£19,943). In contrast however, whilst the demand for premium EVs followed a similar trajectory to the other fuel types, increasing from 48.1% YoY in February to 135.9%, it failed to match the very strong levels of supply of premium EVs in the market, which increased 278.5% YoY. As a result, prices continued to contract, falling -4.2% YoY (£43,313).
Commenting on the results, Auto Trader’s director of data and insight, Richard Walker, said: “The record demand we’re seeing on our marketplace offers a very positive indication as to what we can expect when in less than a week, retailers across England and Wales will be able to fully reopen their forecourts. Coupled with the fact that used car sales are close to what we would typically see in March, and new car performance has been robust despite the current restrictions, we’re confident of a fast return to health. And, with such strong demand in the market, we anticipate prices will remain buoyant for some time to come, which will continue to benefit retailers’ profit margins.”
Retailer pricing behaviour in line with typical March
Based on the number of retailers making price changes and the value of their adjustments, last month’s pricing strategies are consistent with those of a typical March, which given the restrictions in place, further highlights the market’s stability.
On average 2,519 retailers made price changes last month, which is up just over 1% on March 2019, whilst the average daily price reduction of £239 was just £64 less than the same period. On average, there were circa 15,941 price changes made each day; higher than the 14,469 recorded in March 2019. However, with higher volumes of total stock currently on Auto Trader, this additional activity is to be expected.
 Volume EV brands categorised as: Ford, Volkswagen, Vauxhall, Peugeot, Nissan, Citroen, Kia, Hyundai, MG, Renault, SEAT, SKODA, Honda, Toyota, Fiat, Suzuki, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Smart, Dacia, Jeep, Subaru
 Premium EV brands categorised as: Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Land Rover, Jaguar, Tesla, Volvo, MINI, DS AUTOMOBILES, Lexus, Abarth, Alfa Romeo