CPO share of franchised used at record high; room to grow?

CARY, N.C. - 

A record 22.8 percent of franchised dealers’ used-car sales last year were certified pre-owned vehicles, according to an Edmunds report, and there were also a record 2.6 million CPO cars sold last year.

But where do certified sales go from here?  That’s not quite certain at this point, although signs would suggest there's potential for growth.

Edmunds said in its latest Used Vehicle Market Report that it’s possible CPO sales continue rising, but notes that certified sales “don’t specifically correlate” to the industry's bump in leasing.

Lease originations were close to 4 million in 2015, were well past 4 million in 2016 and are expected to reach 4.1 million this year, according to the Edmunds report.

The certified pre-owned market has had gone six straight years of record sales, according to Autodata Corp., but those numbers — while impressive — haven’t yet reached an annual sum of 3 million.

Certified sales were up 3.5 percent last year, but Edmunds said there may have been potential for more.

“CPO sales actually didn’t grow as much as would have been expected, given the number of vehicles coming off of lease,” Edmunds senior analyst Ivan Drury said in a news release accompanying the report.

“This indicates dealers put more off-lease vehicles directly onto lots instead of going through the certification process, which could be one factor keeping pricing in check and allowing the market to absorb so many newer vehicles entering the market at once,” he said.

According to Manheim’s 2017 Used Car Market Report, there were 18 percent more off-lease vehicles than CPO sales last year.  There were more than 3.1 million off-lease units last year, with 2017 volumes expected to hit 3.6 million and 2018 volumes projected north of 4 million, according to Manheim.

In a recent phone interview, Cox Automotive chief economist Tom Webb — the architect of the Manheim report, if you will — notes the off-lease growth outpacing that of CPO, but does point out that certified sales remain an important way to protect residual values.

Interestingly enough, though, he does point out that more off-lease volumes may flow into independent dealerships, and these stores may be able to put their own warranties and guarantees on the vehicles.

In the report, Manheim mulls over a potential ceiling for CPO sales, pointing out that “the ratio of CPO sales to the number of new-vehicles sales in the prior four years is now more than 4 percent, up from slightly over 2 percent 10 years ago.”

Citing the National Automobile Dealers Association and Autodata, Manheim also notes that 21 percent of franchised used-car sales were CPO in 2016, up from 14.2 percent six years earlier.

“Note, however, that manufacturers with long-established CPO programs, high lease rates, and remarketing processes that keep a large share of returning units within their dealer networks often have CPO-to-prior sales ratios close to double digits,” Manheim said in the report.

“And their dealers often have used vehicle operations where more than half of all used sales are accounted for by CPO vehicles. This means that the CPO market has at least the potential to continue its growth. It will be a matter of how much marketing muscle the manufacturers want to put behind the programs — and, of course, the dealer’s ability to continue to earn good profits on the sales,” it continued.

Manheim suggests that the certified sales last year didn’t see as much growth as they could have, due to such profitability limitations to the dealer.

The share of compact cars and midsize cars in the pool of lease returns, off-rentals and late-model trades was larger than consumer demand for these vehicles.

“As a result, the potential gross profit on the subsequent retail sales of those units was skinny. So skinny that dealers decided the lift from CPOing the unit would be inadequate relative to the associated costs,” Manheim said. “They retailed the unit without CPOing it.

“Relatedly, manufacturers continued to offer attractive lease deals on new small sedans, which often made the monthly retail payment on a competing CPO unit uncompetitive,” Manheim’s report said. “Some of the pressures above should ease in 2017, and thus, CPO sales will continue to grow.

“It is important, however, that manufacturers design programs that allow dealers to benefit financially.”

It should be noted, as well, that Manheim expects 2017 to be the seventh straight year of best-ever certified sales, for this two-pronged reason: “growing off-lease volumes provide both the need and ability for further growth.”

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