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REMARKETING: Shortage of commercial vehicles leads to strong prices

Date: 22 May 2014   |   Author: Jack Carfrae

It wasn't so long ago that the used van market was in the doldrums. The economy being what it was took a sledgehammer to new LCV sales, which in turn took the legs out from second-hand vehicles. 

Things couldn't be more different in 2014, though. For the past couple of years, the availability of decent used stock has continued to contract, which has driven prices up to record levels. 

BCA's general manager for commercial vehicles, Duncan Ward, explains just how good a time sellers are having at the moment: "January's average value was the highest since [BCA's] Pulse began reporting in 2005, and it was the sixth month in a row that average values across all light commercial vehicles exceeded £5000."

Vehicle remarketing director at leasing giant Lex Autolease, Glenn Sturley, agrees that vans are doing well "across all sectors" and also cites BCA figures as an illustration of how impressively they're performing. 

"Data from BCA's monthly Pulse survey showed that the average sale price for an ex-fleet or lease LCV in December 2013 was £6700," he says. "This figure is almost 20% higher than the average sale price 12 months ago." 

No one seems to think this is likely to change, either. All the signs say LCVs, like cars, will remain in short supply with healthy prices for the short to medium term.

They may even improve further, according to Ward: "Average values rose consistently during 2013, and as demand is expected to improve further as the economy starts to recover, 2014 could be another year of record price performance for used vans.

Average van prices are up 45.5% compared to five years ago, despite being nearly a year older and having covered 9000 more miles."

Sturley agrees that an even bigger price chasm could be created as the year goes on: "This gap [between the number of new vans and available used vehicles] is likely to widen as the economy improves and businesses need additional vehicles to capitalise on new opportunities."  

The consensus is that buyers are paying over the odds for all used vans at the moment, but there are one or two sectors that are doing particularly well, as David Hill, vehicle valuation manager for LCVs at CDL Vehicle Information Services, explains. "Long-wheelbase vans are sought after if the mileage is average for the year, but the vans have to be very tidy. [No vehicles are] trailing, apart from those that are well past it in terms of condition or age."

Ward says specialist vehicles are in particularly high demand with buyers: "Any light commercial with specialist equipment - Hiabs [mounted cranes], dropsides, tippers, fridge vans, recovery vehicles - generates a lot of interest from buyers, not just in the UK but further afield."

He adds that it's particularly good news for fleet operators, as vehicles from the corporate sector have done especially well: "Demand has been right across the board, from older, higher-mileage vans through to younger ex-fleet and lease vehicles, while the few late-plate light commercials on offer can make exceptional values. The end result has been record-breaking average values for fleet and lease vehicles."

The lack of decent stock also leaves a question over the worth of damaged vans and whether buyers will pay more because there's no alternative. Obviously, those in good condition will always make better money and be easier to shift, but the current state of affairs does leave those vans in poorer-than-average condition on a better footing. 

"Due to the shortage of stock, buyers are not discouraged from purchasing damaged LCVs," says Sturley. Hill claims acceptability of cosmetic damage is often dependent on the seller and their reputation: "Certain [defleeted vans] with damage are accepted by the trade, as they know from the seller that the vehicle has been well maintained, so the only cost the trader has to look at is the damage in front of them when they are buying the van."

It's no secret that the jury is out on residual values for electric vans, but they continue to trickle onto the market in nominal numbers, despite the debate.

The remarketing community remains sceptical about the worth of such vehicles to second-hand buyers, as Ward explains: "Cost and residual value is an issue for corporate ownership, which means there is still a dearth of stock in the marketplace.

Numbers may be rising slowly but with no steady supply reaching the wholesale markets, it is difficult for trade buyers and dealers to get an idea of what EVs are really worth.  

"For the small business owner - who will typically be the second owner of a corporate van - issues remain over range anxiety (how far can I go?), refuelling anxiety (where do I plug in?), ownership anxiety (who owns the batteries?) and reliability anxieties (is the battery technology robust?)."

Hill makes the point that electric vans will always cover less mileage than a petrol or diesel equivalent, which could make them more attractive as a used buy: "RVs on EVs is a debate at the moment, but you have to remember that EVs will never do the mileage that a diesel or even a petrol van would.

Your average van will be valued at 36 months and 80,000 miles - an electric van will be 20,000 miles and five years. That's the only way it works."