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AUCTIONS: Make diesel luxury saloons an automatic choice

Date: 20 March 2007

Buyers of executive saloons are looking for auto and semi-auto gearboxes to go with their diesel engines

It could be said the large executive saloon is an anachronism from the another era, when the aspiring company manager was judged by the size of their car and the badge on the bonnet.

These days the used buyer is looking increasingly for practicality and cheaper running costs from the family car, while younger buyers are firmly entrenched in the supermini sector. This can leave the large executive car out in the cold - too big, too expensive and too impractical.

That doesn't mean, however, there are no takers for exec saloons, says BCA's network operations director Simon Henstock: "Well-heeled older buyers like the quiet elegance of the BMW 7-series, Mercedes S-Class, Audi A8 or Jaguar XJ-series while the self-employed and entrepreneurial small business owner sees a great value car that still makes a statement."

But he adds: "It will have to be great value, though - depreciation is steep in this sector and used buyers expect a lot of car for the money."

Henstock continues: "Don't make the mistake of scrimping on specification at the front end - leather interior and alloys are a given, so take a good hard look at the options list and select the best you can afford; while you will not get every penny back that the extras cost, it will make the car much more saleable at remarketing time. Factory-fitted satnav, climate control, memory seats, heads-up displays, even DVD screens in the front head-rests might make a difference three years down the line.

"And stick to popular colours - metallic silvers, blues and greens for example. With the best will in the world, any large car in cream or beige looks like a taxi after three years."

According to Henstock, auto- and semi-auto gearboxes are generally favoured and diesel power is very much growing in popularity. It's an analysis with which Andrew Shepherd, senior group auctioneer at Manheim agrees. "The executive segment of vehicles up to four years old and 80,000 miles is most notable for its strength of price performance for automatic diesel models. Everyone seems to want one, even at 43 months old vehicles are still retaining on average 47% of cost new.

"This segment sees a large gap in the selling price between manual and automatic, petrol and diesel vehicles. We see almost 10% separating the top and bottom performers. In comparison to the strong performance of diesel models, petrol variants - manual and automatic - retain on average 37% of original cost new."

Shepherd reports that the average sale price of the vehicles remained consistent throughout 2006, dropping slightly towards the end of the year to an average of £10,600. But he adds: "Despite a slight drop in price, we also experienced an increase in demand towards the end of the year, and therefore a reduction in stocking days at our centres."

Mileage no problem

High-mileage is not such a turn off for these pedigree cars, but Henstock advises that it's wise to reflect the mileage sensibly when setting the reserve price.

"Successfully remarketing the big executive saloons calls for a different approach than when dealing with 'bread and butter' fleet cars," he says. "We would always recommend selling these cars in our dedicated Top Car sales, which feature prestige and high value vehicles.

"Because of the additional activity required, it is worth consigning cars early, which gives your remarketer time to get the message across to the buyers. This really is key, because the right sort of buying power on the auction hall floor leads to success. Few can afford to spend upwards of £20,000 or £30,000 on a whim, and with such specialist high value vehicles, the pre-sale marketing is critical."

And the pre-sale preparation is equally important. "Cars of this calibre really deserve the highest level of preparation - we would recommend steam cleaning the engine bay, degreasing the door shuts and treating the leather interior," says Henstock.

"Under no circumstances should you let these big executive saloons into the remarketing arena with damage. The professional buyer will mentally calculate the time and cost to put it right and bid accordingly, and any potential private buyers are likely to take one look and walk away."

Henstock concludes by advising sellers to ensure executive saloons are sold with a full service history, preferably from the franchised dealer, and ensure all service points are met - even to the point of carrying out those major services that crop up later in the car's life and which are sometimes overlooked. "And sell it with an MOT if applicable - this will do wonders for the buyer's confidence."