The UK automotive market surpassed expectations in January, with retailers trading at 60-70% of usual volumes despite existing lockdown restrictions, according to Auto Trader.

Strong performance across the industry was evident from Auto Trader data, which revealed high volumes of traffic to the online marketplace.

The firm registered 53.6m cross-platform visits in the first 28 days of January – an increase of over 1.6m when compared to the same period in 2019 – and a daily average of 1.3m users.

Such strong levels of consumer engagement gave way to around a 10% year-on-year increase in the number of leads directed to retailers.

Nathan Coe, chief executive of Auto Trader, said: “Whilst we appreciate not every retailer is seeing the same positive levels of activity, it’s very reassuring to see and to hear anecdotally from many of our retailer partners that businesses are performing consistently way above the levels we saw during the first lockdown and at similar levels to the second.”

An onsite survey also conducted in January highlights the robustness of buying intentions, with 60% of respondents reporting that new restrictions had not affected their desired timeline to purchase.

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By GlobalData

Consumer confidence in being able to afford their next car also reached 8.68/10, the highest level recorded since Auto Trader began tracking the figure in January 2020. Some 45% of those surveyed said they were more confident than they were a year ago, up from 43% in December.

Coe continued: “If the restrictions remain as is, we expect this level of transactions to continue, and potentially strengthen towards the end of the lockdown as we’ve seen previously.

“Overall, much as we saw when exiting the two previous lockdowns, we’re feeling confident the market will be in a robust position once the restrictions are lifted.”

Retailers holding firm on used prices

Encouraging demand also extends to the used segment. Average used prices remained strong in January, with a year-on-year increase of around 7%, marking 10 months of consecutive price growth.

Despite ongoing supply constraints, retailer activity has remained stable when compared to the same period in 2020 according to the analysis of retailer pricing behaviour last month.

Data revealed that, as retailers hold firm on pricing, demand remains strong. Subsequently, there is little reason for price corrections or adjustments in the near future.

Last week, an average of 2359 retailers made daily price adjustments – 107 fewer than the previous year, and below the pre-lockdown average of 2500-3000.

Pre-Covid, retailers typically lowered prices between £250-£550 per day. Last week, the average price reduction was £303, which is at the lower end of the scale.

Coe concluded: “The current performance is testament to how essential online retailing has become for many car buyers, and whilst many will no doubt enjoy the opportunity to visit showrooms and forecourts once retailers reopen, a significant proportion will still prefer to combine that with the convenience of digital for many more stages of the buying journey.”