Last Thursday, the British Motor Museum in Gaydon was the historical setting for Car Dealer Live, a whirlwind of insights, networking and important used car market chat, expertly curated by Car Dealer’s James Baggott and James Batchelor.

Amid the display vehicles and timeworn blueprints on display, we heard top dealers and industry experts speak on challenges and innovations. Throughout the day, we found a palpable feeling of camaraderie and positivity. The used car sector is not without its challenges but the mutual respect and positive feeling at the event was nothing short of inspirational.

Sales adjustment

Keynote speaker Peter Vardy opened the event with a revealing chat about the challenges his business has faced, explaining that the emergence of cheaper Chinese EVs was a key factor in his business model changing. His company has pulled out of several volume car franchises, switching its focus to premium brands and other revenue streams, including software. Reflecting on his rationale, Peter cited the great Dolly Parton: “You can’t change the wind, but you can adjust the sails.”

The nimble truth

A fascinating discussion on the franchised dealer panel, made up of Luscombe Leeds boss Robin Luscombe, Chris Wiseman of Wessex Garages and Chorley Group’s Sue Corkin concluded that business had started well in 2024 but that being alert to change and ‘nimble’ was all important.

Chris said: “There’s a huge disconnect, the EV market is good with the business market, the support needs to be with private, but it isn’t there.”

ICE warning

The sheer number of raised smartphones grabbing pics of slides that characterised Cox Automotive’s session highlighted just how important data and insight were to event attendees. The findings of Insight Director Philip Nothard’s new four-year new and used forecast should cause many dealers to think on.

Alongside Philip on the panel were Suzuki GB Director Dale Wyatt and Danny Minshall, Regional Retail Director at Greenhous. Responding to the stark statistics about the decline of ICE in our forecast, Dale said: “We need to keep in mind that the UK is a small part of the bigger picture.”

He added: “Hybrid will become very strong at a worldwide level.” Reflecting on the mix of fuel-types, Danny shared how diesels might still be in hot demand in his native rural Shropshire but used EVs were flying out of the door.

Follow your forecourt

Data was front and centre once again with Catherine Faiers of Auto Trader’s session. Joined by Jo Smith, co-founder of Wink Cars. The presence of a significant number of women on this year’s panels highlighted the steps forward automotive has taken in terms of representation (an observation perfectly captured by Car Dealer’s Rebecca Chaplin on International Women’s Day). Catherine said that if the current rate of used sales continues, this year could be the market’s best since pre-pandemic.

Catherine urged: “Follow your forecourt and not the auctions. This pricing disconnect is very hard to navigate and we don’t think it needs to be there with the amount of data available to dealers.” She added that Auto Trader’s research has seen more stable retail pricing, adding that 2024 will be the year EVs become ‘mainstream’.

Quizzed about the challenges of starting a used car business, Jo admitted that it hasn’t been easy.

But smiling, she shared: “Data guides everything we do, we want to sell cars, we don’t want to become a museum.”

Gaining traction

Several speakers pointed to a lack of support for the shift to EVs in the Government’s recent Budget. A panel representing manufacturers including two new EV brands, reiterated that point. We didn’t find out when EV brand Nio will launch in the UK but rival BYD’s Mark Blundell said the brand’s inaugural year in the UK had been enjoyable after its three-model launch. He said: “The road map for us is quite clear and we’re not stressing on hitting numbers. We want to get the basics right and feel we’re heading in the right direction.”

Stellantis’ used car director Nicola Dobson welcomed the emergence of new brands and explained that her company’s direct-to-consumer used car model is ‘gaining traction’. She also insisted that Spoticar Direct was there to ‘supplement’ dealer stock, not take sales away.

Words of wisdom

A key quote from the event was “We need to follow insights and not rely on instincts”. Its sentiment cropped up more than once. Another was “Omnichannel has killed online”, highlighting the importance of ensuring car buyers have a seamless journey from online to physical. One of several audience polls included a question about the importance of social media in their business. 66% of respondents agreed that it’s vital, while a little under a third opted for “Not essential, but nice to have.” Interestingly, another poll asked which Chinese car brand will be most successful. BYD was the clear winner with 79% of the votes.

You get what you give

A panel of luxury car dealers heard that businesses are having difficult conversations with customers who’ve lost money on cars impacted by recent book drops, but it was emphasised that opportunities remain. Tom Hartley agreed and added: “What you lose on the swings, you make on the roundabout.” Asked about the secret to his business, he replied: “I used to start at 8am now I start at 7." He added: “What you put into it is what you get out, and I’ve given the car industry my life.” For anyone in the market for an Italian treat, all agreed the Ferrari 296 was the current supercar bargain buy.

Price drop woe

Independent dealers told the audience that used car price drops over the past year had been hugely challenging. James McConville from Solo Car Sales said: ‘It was difficult and that was a really big drop in guide. For me, I thought certain cars would bounce back up but at a slightly different price. There were some opportunities. But it was hard.”

EV Experts co-founder Estelle Miller spoke of how her business had weathered the drop in used EV prices. The values volatility wasn’t helped by technical problems either, she said. “The long lead times at main dealers for workshop work caused issues during this time. You need a short period of time between purchase and getting it advertised, especially when prices are dropping.”

How to get ahead in advertising

The day finished with an effusive presentation by Google’s Mohammad Lone who revealed the search giant’s new Vehicle Ads format. He said the new service will allow small independent dealers to compete with big PLCs. Benefits for dealerships include targeted advertising and a rich ad format, as well as the ability to reach customers across various Google platforms. Learn more by Googling “Pmax Vehicle Onboarding Guide”.


At Car Dealer Live, Cox Automotive revealed its first ever fuel-type forecast, predicting in detail the changes coming to the UK new and used car parc. Click here to read the report.