Used car sales slumped by almost nine percent during the first three months of 2021, according to new figures published this week. Data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) shows sales of second-hand cars fell noticeably in the first quarter of the year, down 8.9 percent compared with the same period last year.

The SMMT data showed there were almost 1.7 million “used car transactions” during January, February and March. That was down from more than 1.8 million during the same three months of 2020.

The lacklustre performance of the market has been blamed on the coronavirus pandemic, with the SMMT suggesting the enforced closure of showrooms had impacted the sector. But the same could be said of March 2020, when showrooms more or less closed overnight thanks to the arrival of the first coronavirus lockdown.

Colourful cars lined up in dealer forecourt

As a result, March saw the market grow by almost a third (32.4 percent) compared with the same month in 2020. However, when compared with the levels seen during the third month of 2019, the March of 2021 was down 8.4 percent.

“These figures lay bare the turbulent impact of coronavirus lockdowns on the used car market,” said SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes. “While March’s performance suggests there is some pent-up demand, this is against a weak month last year, so its true extent remains to be seen. The second quarter will see significant growth as last year’s April and May markets were severely limited by lockdown measures.

“It’s vital that the used market is rejuvenated to help sustain jobs and livelihoods, drive fleet renewal and support environmental progress. With car showrooms open again and the UK coming out of Covid restrictions, the sector can look forward with renewed optimism.”

Vauxhall dealership forecourt London

Optimism can also be found among exponents of electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles, who saw the market grow significantly during the first quarter of this year. With demand for such vehicles increasing and the availability of used examples also rising, hybrid transactions were up 16.6 percent, while plug-in hybrid sales were up 32 percent. Sales of used electric vehicles also grew by 48.3 percent, but with just 6,564 sales, it remains by far the smallest of the three markets.

Put together, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles made up one percent of the used market. Petrol and diesel powertrains, meanwhile, accounted for 97.1 percent of all used car transactions in the first quarter of 2021. It’s a statistic that “illustrates the scale of the challenge ahead to transition the entire used car arena away from traditional fuels”, the SMMT said.