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AUCTIONS: Spec up to do loads better

Date: 29 July 2008

Buyers want estates with extras, even prefering high-spec volume to low-spec premium cars. Tony Rock reports

Around 7% of cars on UK roads are estates according to BCA's 2007 Used Car Market Report, making this sector one of the more restricted markets for the second-hand seller.

"The estate car has never really gained the acceptance with UK motorists that it has in other markets - there's no real heritage," explains BCA's UK operations director Simon Henstock.

"There is, too, a lingering perception of the estate as just a working tool rather than a flexible and useful family car," he adds.

A further problem for the sector is that it is being squeezed by several other niche markets.

"The rise of the mini-MPV has given motorists another set of choices if they want a car that can carry big loads," says Henstock, while Robert Redman, senior pricing analyst at Masterlease, adds that "MPVs have tended to take the place of 'proper' estates, offering even more load capacity and flexibility".

"Over recent years we have also seen the emergence of 'lifestyle' estate cars," continues Redman. "These are generally smaller, and so less practical, than the larger, more traditional estates, and have replaced the hatchbacks in many ranges."

The good news

Despite the issues outlined above, BCA states that premium models are always much sought after if they have the right combination of colour and specification.

"Our experience is that estate buyers/owners are often older motorists and they expect a good degree of comfort and spec," says Henstock. "The bigger-engined examples, meanwhile, are also popular with caravan owners, who need the torque and pulling power as well as the extra space. Dog owners are also big fans of estates - walk around the NEC car parks during Crufts and you'd be forgiven for thinking estates make up 70% of cars on the road rather than the 7% they actually represent."

Henstock continues: "High-spec premium models are popular with well-heeled family buyers as they make a statement as well as being eminently practical and could make a real resurgence with the pressure being experienced in the large 4x4 market.

"On premium models, really go for the bells and whistles. Full not half-leather interior, heated seats with memory, satnav, climate control, MP3 connectivity - whatever the budget will match really.

"For user-choosers, be very careful with the driver who blows all the budget to upgrade the badge on the bonnet, but then can't afford anything but basic spec across the rest of the car - at remarketing time you are better off with a high-spec volume model than a low-spec premium. Base-specification models are hard to place whatever the bodyshape so avoid these if possible. As a bare minimum these days used buyers expect air-conditioning, electic windows and a CD/radio player so make that your lowest benchmark and up-spec from there where you can."

Colour critical

"Whatever models you are remarketing, colour is very important," says Henstock. "Buyers do not like obvious corporate or utilitarian colours so if your estates have to be dressed in company finery, we would suggest looking at vinyl logos or wrapping over a good base metallic colour. Small company vans can get away with white - estates cannot, so bear that in mind. Silvers, greens, blues and greys are okay if metallic but not if in flat colours.

"As always presentation is very important because estates are seen as working cars perhaps more than any other fleet vehicle outside of the commercial sector."

However, one of the simplest pieces of advice Henstock offers is to avoid having large volumes of similar models hitting the used market at the same time, "particularly low-spec examples in corporate colours".

Estate versus saloon and hatch

Manheim's monthly Market Analysis Report shows the relative performance of saloons and estates varies depending on the segment.

In the prestige upper medium segment estates returned the higher average selling price (£9696) and retained the higher percentage of price new (41%) compared with saloons (£8456 and 38%). However, in the executive segment saloons returned the higher average selling price (£12,833) and retained the higher percentage of price new (39%) compared with estates (£9940 and 37%).

In the upper medium sector, saloons again returned the higher average selling price (£5816) and retained the higher percentage of price new (33%) compared with estates (£5657 and 31%). In this segment hatchbacks lagged behind at £4758 and 28%.