The story of March wholesale prices: Cars down & trucks up

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During his last quarterly conference call on behalf of Cox Automotive, chief economist Tom Webb on Friday covered a wide range of used-vehicle topics, including an update on the Manheim Used Vehicle Value Index.

Webb explained that wholesale used vehicle prices (on a mix-, mileage- and seasonally adjusted basis) declined 0.5 percent in March, relative to February.  The dip brought the index reading to 124.1, which represented a 1.3-percent increase from a year ago. 

“Naturally, wholesale prices were up in March relative to February before the seasonal adjustment,” Webb said.

“On a year-over-year basis, the same story holds: All car segments down, all truck segments up,” he continued.

Specifically, Manheim reported that pickup prices led the way with a 6.7 percent rise year-over-year, followed by van prices at 3.9 percent and SUV/CUV prices at 1.4 percent.

By edging only 0.9 percent lower year-over-year, Webb pointed out prices for compact cars “showed some relative strength.” The two other vehicle segments Manheim tracks each month — midsize cars and luxury cars — both produced price softening at about the same reading at 1.6 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively.

“Although used-vehicle values have declined in five of the last six months, it has not been the collapse that many analysts have warned of for more than a year due to increasing wholesale supplies,” Webb said.

“And, in fact, what weakness we have seen is probably more a result of excessive new-vehicle inventory, not used,” he continued. “At retail, the used-vehicle market remains healthy, and dealers have needed only a modest decline in auction pricing to maintain acceptable inventory turn rates.”

About his retirement

Cox Automotive announced back on March 30 that Webb would be retiring this year, officially departing the company on June 30. Before taking questions for nearly an hour on Friday, Webb expressed gratitude for individuals and companies involved in his professional career that dates back to the 1970s.

“As many of you know, I will be retiring shortly from Cox Automotive. This will be my last quarterly call,” Webb said. “But after following this industry for 43-plus years, it is unreasonable to assume that I can completely go cold turkey, so I look forward to remaining in contact with many of you.

“I also look forward to formally or informally, remotely or in person, to introducing you to the team at Cox Automotive that have been assembled to take over everything I do, plus a whole lot more,” he continued.

“From that perspective, this relationship that we’ve developed over the past 17 years with Manheim, the sharing of insights and opinions, has truly been mutually beneficial, and I hope you feel the same,” Webb went on to say.

After tackling questions about off-lease volume, rental-risk units and more, Webb reiterated his appreciation at the close of Friday’s conference call.

“Technically the next call should be July 10. And as I said, I won’t be hosting that call, but I might listening in. They might even let me ask a question,” Webb said, almost chuckling. “Thank you again for your insights and friendship.”

Editor’s note: Webb covered several segments of the used-vehicle industry during his final conference call with Cox Automotive. Look for more of Webb’s analysis and commentary contained in upcoming reports from Auto Remarketing, SubPrime Auto Finance News and BHPH Report.

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