Used car retailers should forget CO2 and buy SUVs not PHEVs

  26 July 2020

As lockdown lifts and auto retailers reopen, Auto Trader has restarted its fastest selling used car index. And there’s no surprise in the top 10: SUVs dominate, with 2015 Peugeot 2008 taking just 26 days to sell. The Mazda CX-5 is also in great demand, while a 2015 Dacia Duster also takes less than a month to sell.

As if it couldn’t get any higher, demand for SUVs has actually grown 42.5% since the start of June alone. Only coupes and convertibles, presumably helped by the summer months (and customer relief from escaping lockdown) comes close.

Plug-in hybrids provide a start contrast in the slowest-selling top 10. A 2020 Peugeot 508 PHEV takes, wait for it, 150 days to sell. So too does a 2020 Mercedes-Benz C-Class PHEV. A plug-in Volvo S60 takes 148 days if it’s a 2020 model; a 2019 version takes 145 days to sell.

Why is this? Simply because they’re so expensive, says Auto Trader. They’re naturally pricey when new, which carries through to secondhand prices – and “with economic uncertainty a concern for many consumers, the comparatively high sticker price of a low emission vehicle remains a major barrier to entry”.

Some might say it’s further proof the government was misguided in withdrawing the Plug-in Car Grant from PHEVs. That pushed the transaction price of PHEVs up, with knock-on effects on the secondhand market.

Concerns should be broader than this, though. If plug-in hybrids are to play a pivotal role in reducing emissions (and they need to), they have to be a much more desirable proposition to used car buyers – who outnumber new buyers four to one – than these figures suggest.

How many retailers would willingly invest in stocking a car predicted to take more than half a year to sell? Few, right? Which is why PHEVs will continue to get short shrift from used car retailers for the foreseeable.

The irony is that the focus will instead remain on higher-emission, faster-turnover SUVs, achieving the exact opposite of what the government needs to be successful in its emissions-reducing transportation strategy.

The real-world auto retail figures are clear: so how long before officials respond to this market reality with new strategies to boost the marketplace? Don’t hold your breath… and in the meantime, elbow out your PHEVs and stock up on SUVs instead.

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