The race to cut emissions has accelerated the amount of alternative-fuel vehicles on the new market. It’s still a case of ‘toe in the water’ for a lot of fleets, but the vehicles are muscling their way through in small but increasing numbers.

It’s early days for the used car market too. But while the time elapsed between procurement and defleet still hasn’t been long enough to see enough second-hand electric vehicles appear for the remarketing industry to make a proper call on them, hybrids, however, are near enough part of the mainstream, and newer models with reasonable miles are good sellers according to BCA’s operations director Simon Henstock.

“Hybrids are very much part of the remarketing fabric now, with BCA handling several hundred examples every month, with the majority coming from fleet and lease sources. There is a steady demand for younger hybrids, although older, higher-mileage examples need to be sensibly valued to attract the buyers.

“Remarketing parameters for hybrids are similar to diesel in terms of age and mileage, but price performance is prone to more erratic peaks and troughs than both petrol and diesel models. This is typical of low-volume sectors, where model mix has an effect.”

Alex Wright, managing director of Shoreham Vehicle Auctions, says hybrids are considered tried and tested by the used market, so they’re a safe bet: “The technology has been around for some time, and so with this proven reliability and ability to cover long distances it is seen by many businesses as the best solution to going green.”

He adds that well-maintained examples are paramount for a good sale though, as second-hand buyers are still cagey about the cost of repairing a hybrid drivetrain.

“There is a strong market for hybrids, as businesses want to be seen to be going green and the five- to seven-year old Prius is ideal for this profile. The main thing buyers want from hybrids is a clear indication that the vehicles have been maintained properly through their life to date.”

Henstock agrees and adds: “Buyers generally prefer younger, lower-mileage examples, mainly because of perceived worries about the reliability of the batteries as they get older. As older models reach the market, questions about longevity and even replacing the fuel cells emerge, so age and mileage is a concern.”

Wright cites the Toyota Prius as an alternative-fuel vehicle with “a proven track record” that can be relied upon to sell well. He also predicts that the new wave of diesel hybrids, such as the Peugeot 508 RXH and Volvo V60 PHV, will sell well when they eventually appear on the used market: “The new diesel plug-in hybrid technology is very good and addresses any range-anxiety issues held with EVs, so we predict used values will be strong as a result.”

As for full-electric vehicles, it is still too soon to make a proper assessment of how they will fare on the second-hand market because there just aren’t enough of them out there. 

BCA’s figures sum it up as well as any: “EVs have not been widely adopted by fleets in any volumes. There is no real steady supply of electric-powered vehicles reaching the markets,” begins Henstock. “In early November, [we] had just one EV consigned for sale out of a total of 12,700 vehicles. Adding in hybrids, the number rose to around 150 units, equivalent to just over 1% of the stock total.”

“We are all holding our breath,” says Wright. “Until they come in with 80,000 miles and four years of use we will not know what the appetite is for such vehicles. There have been a few scare stories out there like the now defunct Modec manufacturer that saw vehicles originally priced in excess of £75,000 new having a residual value after six years of less than £2000.”

Toyota _prius

He continues: “With EVs, one has to consider who the motor trader is going to be able to sell a vehicle to. They will have to communicate the benefits of that vehicle to their customers, and most of all take away their fears.

“Their biggest concern is selling a vehicle that they don’t know the true life expectancy of, and with potential battery replacement costs of up to a third of the original price of the vehicle, that will fill them with absolute fear.”

Opinion is split on LPG vehicles. They’re around in small numbers and tend to be confined to the LCV sector, but Henstock reckons they do well when they go through the auction halls because of their rarity: “LPG [vehicles] are few and far between and restricted largely to the commercial vehicle sector – there is always interest when these are offered because of the scarcity.”

Wright doesn’t agree, though. He thinks LPG vehicles are considered out of date and the fuel itself has the capacity to cause mechanical problems, which can seriously hamper the saleability.

“LPG is very much perceived as a ‘past’ fuel and this is probably summed up best by the severe lack motivation and enthusiasm from manufacturers for this product,” he says. “Many saw this as a gap between old and new technology, but the appetite for these vehicles has all but dried up.

“LPG has been around for 20 years and unfortunately the biggest challenge we have is that as a variable fuel, it can damage the vehicle by burning out the valves in the engine. As it isn’t a constant fuel like petrol, the valve timing changes can lead to long-term expensive repairing of the valves.”

The residual value expert’s view

Andy Cutler, UK car editor for forecast values at Glass’s, agrees with fellow remarketing experts that hybrids are the only real alternative fuel to break through in any way.

“Hybrids have been around for a while now and are quite well accepted within the used car arena, especially the well-established Toyota Prius and the Lexus RX450h, for example,” he says.

He adds that we are still a long way off in terms of acceptance of non-petrol and diesel vehicles, particularly with second-hand buyers.

“When it comes to alternative-fuel vehicles, especially electric vehicles, there is a lot of educating to be done when it comes to the general public that are buying used cars. The cars do not even hit the radar of almost all used buyers – they are seen as expensive, dangerous, aren’t fit for purpose etc., and this all contributes to the lack of desire for them in the used car market.

“If you speak to many in the industry they will talk about how some of the new EVs coming into the market are extremely good; they are great to drive and technologically they are extremely clever. However, as stated previously, there just doesn’t seem to be much desire for people to back it up with their own money and go out and buy one for themselves.”

Cutler agrees with Alex Wright, managing director of Shoreham Vehicle Auctions, that LPG is becoming a thing of the past now, and holds less appeal for used buyers: “The benefits aren’t always there now in the LPG market, and this has meant a sharp decline over the years in demand for LPG conversions. LPG conversions make more sense on some of the really old gas guzzlers such as early Range Rover etc. where the benefits can be far greater.”