CPOS sell better than non-certified vehicles

Andrew Stowe of J.D. Power says certified pre-owned profit performance is “compelling.”

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Certified pre-owned vehicles are selling quicker and for better margins than similar non-certified used vehicles, but dealers who want to push the product are challenged by a lack of consumer awareness.

New data from J.D. Power shows higher average profits and faster turn rates for CPO vehicles consistently during the past two years — and that spread grew in the third quarter of this year.

“It does seem to be a compelling argument,” Andrew Stowe, senior director of vehicle valuations at J.D. Power, said of the CPO segment’s profit performance. “And the fact that it isn’t advertised more or communicated a little bit more is one of the things that’s maybe holding it back from even greater growth than we’ve seen over the last couple years.”

Consumers purchased just more than 2.6 million CPO vehicles in 2017, according to the Automotive News Data Center. Through the first 10 months of 2018, total CPO sales in the U.S. rose 2.2 percent.

And the average profit percentage on CPO vehicle sales was 5.7 percent in the third quarter of 2018 vs. 4.9 percent for non-CPO vehicles, according to J.D. Power. CPO vehicles had an F&I profit of 4.7 percent in the period, compared with 4.4 for their non-CPO counterparts. And CPO vehicles on average took 43 days to turn in the quarter, compared with 67 days for non-CPO vehicles.

“So make more money front-end, make more money back-end, and make more money more often,” Stowe said.

So what’s the holdup? Some dealers may prefer their own certified programs and do only the bare minimum for the programs dictated by the automakers. And there’s lots of room to step up promotions, said Jonathan Banks, J.D. Power vice president of vehicle valuations.

There’s not much marketing “to say, ‘Here’s all the stuff about certified,’ ” Banks said. “And then you think about the young buyer — you don’t want to do a traditional media campaign probably. You want to do something a little more interactive and social.”

Opportunity for dealers

With new-vehicle prices rising and affordability becoming more challenging for consumers, it’s a good time for dealers to embrace certified pre-owned vehicle sales.

2018 forecast

Used-vehicle sales at franchised dealerships (millions)

2018 YTD

Used-vehicle monthly payments (3 years old)

2018 forecast

Lease maturities growth, mainstream

Lease maturities growth, luxury

2018 YTD

CPO sales growth, mainstream

CPO sales growth, luxury

Source: J.D. Power

In general, certified vehicles continue to face a dearth of consumer awareness, J.D. Power said.

In a survey this yearto gauge that consumer awareness and reception of certified vehicles, J.D. Power found that of the customers who are likely or extremely likely to consider purchasing a certified vehicle, only 44 percent are “extremely” or “moderately” familiar with CPO programs, while 31 percent were “somewhat” familiar and 24 percent were “not at all” familiar with them. That survey garnered about 10,000 responses.

Meanwhile, automakers have so far been disciplined on incentives despite slowing retail sales. Industry retail sales are forecast to dip to 13.8 million units in 2018 vs. about 14 million a year ago. At the same time, incentive spending per unit is down so far in 2018 vs. 2017, according to J.D. Power.

“The discipline on incentives is a good-news story when it comes to CPO because you don’t want the downward price pressure to start having an impact on profitability in used,” Stowe said.

For some buyers coming back to the market after the expiration of new-vehicle leases, affordability could be an issue, Banks said.

“Why not serve them up with a nice certified pre-owned as an option to a new vehicle?” he said. “You’re not seeing that.”

And the affordability challenge, Banks said, is “not going away, unless manufacturers change their strategy for the market. So for us, it’s like a perfect opportunity.”

Off-lease mismatch

Although relatively small, CPO is a mature market, Stowe said. It has gained more attention of late as more consumers appear to be getting priced out of new vehicles and with off-lease returns expected to peak in 2019.

But despite the added attention, CPO sales aren’t keeping up with their potential, the J.D. Power executives said. After all, lease maturities, a good source of vehicles that are candidates for certification, are forecast to grow.

Although there are different takes on whether an off-lease tsunami is hitting the market, there is no denying there are a lot of used vehicles that were new in 2015 and 2016, which were both record years for sales.

“We see varying degrees of participation; that’s just one of the realities we face,” Stowe said. “It’s the classic case of, the more we can communicate this to people, the more they understand and appreciate the benefits.”

Sales staff

For dealers, certified-vehicle success begins with a well-trained sales staff, Don Luke, owner of Bill Luke Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram in Phoenix, told a conference at the 2018 Used Car Week show in Scottsdale, Ariz., this month. It helps to use phrases that denote certified vehicles’ attributes, such as the additional warranty, Luke said.

Eric Shoemaker, pre-owned director at Trophy Nissan in Mesquite, Texas, agreed with Luke.

“It all starts with sales staff,” Shoemaker said.

On the automaker side, Mazda is working on awareness, said Basem Tartir, national program manager for vehicle retention and remarketing at Mazda North American Operations. Mazda’s regional CPO managers are “constantly training” district managers to talk to dealers about how to sell the product.

“For us, it’s similar to a dealer too, in terms of making sure our folks understand CPO and why it’s important to us as a brand and important for our dealers,” Tartir said. 

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