Online platforms and an increasing preference for electric vehicles among younger buyers are transforming China’s second-hand car market, writes Tom Pattinson
The global automotive landscape has witnessed dramatic changes over the past few decades, and nowhere is this more evident than in China. The country’s unprecedented economic growth has not only transformed its urban landscape but also revolutionised how its citizens engage with mobility. This transformation has set the stage for a vibrant second-hand car market that is growing at an astonishing pace.
China’s second-hand car market is characterised by a remarkably low average age of vehicles. This phenomenon can be directly attributed to the swift economic progress the nation has witnessed. To put this into perspective, back in 2000, there were a mere 4 million vehicles on Chinese roads. Fast forward to 2023, and this number has ballooned to an astounding 320 million. This exponential growth in private vehicle ownership has naturally contributed to a dynamic second-hand car market.
The vitality of China’s second-hand car market is further demonstrated by its impressive economic figures. The market is estimated to be worth RMB 400 billion (£44 billion), and the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers estimates that the annual value of the market will reach RMB 750 billion RMB (£81 billion) by 2028. This figure underscores the market’s significant economic impact and its indispensable role within the broader automotive industry.
“With such a young market for private car ownership, the second-hand car market in China is really at the very early stage of its development,” says David Gregory, China Market Business Advisor, CBBC. “As this sector of the market matures, it will not just effect the pure retail side of the automotive business, but also create ever greater opportunities in other areas such as spare parts and maintenance.”
Prominent brands such as Geely, Chery and BYD have already begun to establish dedicated divisions for selling certified pre-owned vehicles. Such a move not only allows these companies to tap into a burgeoning market, but also to capitalise on their well-established brand reputation and quality assurance practices. This approach is highly attractive to buyers seeking reliable used cars.
In tandem with this surge in interest, the digital era has brought about transformative changes to how consumers engage with the second-hand car market in China. An array of online platforms have emerged, facilitating the seamless purchase of second-hand cars. Websites like Guazi.com, Uxin and Renrenche have developed a reputation as trustworthy platforms where potential buyers can explore an extensive range of options and make informed decisions.
The impact of these online platforms goes beyond just providing consumers with more options. They have also introduced a new level of transparency to the market by providing comprehensive information about a vehicle’s history, condition and price. These platforms can also offer supplementary services such as rigorous inspections, certifications and flexible financing options, which, when combined together, render the buying process much smoother and more convenient for buyers.
The main factor driving the growth of the second-hand car market remains cost efficiency. The cost of new cars in China can be surprisingly high due to associated taxes and additional expenses. Acquiring a second-hand car presents a viable avenue for young buyers to own a vehicle at a fraction of the cost of a new one. That being said, the allure of the second-hand car market in China does extend beyond economic motivations. Young people in particular are exhibiting a growing inclination towards exploring this option due to environmental concerns, as a second-hand car may represent a more sustainable option than buying a new car.
Moreover, many young buyers are actively seeking out used electric vehicles (EVs). This stems from the fact that used EVs tend to be more affordable than their new counterparts due to government subsidies, aligning with both economic considerations and environmental concerns. This move also provides young buyers with access to cutting-edge technology at a substantially lower cost.
Automakers, recognising this potential, are strategically venturing into the sector. Nevertheless, there are many key factors that need to be taken into account if the market is to succeed long term, as Owen Edwards, Head of Downstream Automotive Consulting at Grant Thornton, emphasises: “Any used vehicle market requires fully structured processes for sourcing, storing and refurbishing, moving vehicles to the sales point and then selling the vehicle. Without efficient processes in place, growth in the used car market could slow over time as vehicle stocks increase and costs rise,” he says. “Moreover, as used car and vehicle financing markets mature, Chinese original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) should consider selling parts into the used car market. As China’s vehicle finance market develops, it will create opportunities to upsell used car finance and, in order to capture this potential market, OEMs will need to move early.”
Moreover, the increasing preference for second-hand cars among young buyers, driven by cost-efficiency and environmental considerations, adds an intriguing dimension to an evolving landscape, as does the ways online platforms are changing how buyers engage with the market. As China’s second-hand car market continues to develop, it will not only present economic opportunities, but also align with the shifting priorities of the country’s dynamic population.
The next CBBC Automotive Roundtable of 2023 will be hosted by the Institute of the Motor Industry at its conference centre on 14 September.
This roundtable will include a focus on how the industry is tackling new automotive technology and the skills gap, with speakers including Steve Scofield FIMI, Head of Business Development, Institute of the Motor Industry; Owen Edwards, Head of Downstream Automotive Consulting, Grant Thornton; Andy Turbefield, Head of Quality at Halfords Autocentres; and David Gregory, China Market Business Advisor, CBBC.
After the presentations from the Institute of the Motor Industry, Grant Thornton and Halfords, there will be a Q&A session, where you’ll get the chance to put your questions directly to the industry experts. The event will conclude with a networking buffet lunch.