My colleagues over at TCCT have started calling me the Dowser. The message is clear, they want me to discover significant facts by looking closely at the numbers. I will do my best as a nickname like that must be well deserved. Accordingly, I carried out a price analysis between three models that were sufficiently popular to give workable numbers: sold at online auctions – BaT 2020 sales – and physical presence sales data from traditional auction houses. The result is an interesting initial hypothesis.
My second analysis concerns the brands present the most at the auctions: how were they distributed between in-presence auctions and online auctions? Can we understand which brands are better to buy online?
Let’s start with the price analysis that covered the following models: Ford GT, BMW Z8 and Ferrari 355 Spider. The first thing we notice is the percentage of these cars sold at online auctions, 81% of the total number of cars offered for sale, compared to those sold at traditional auctions, 57%. But the real point here is the prices: the differences are really minimal. On average, the 355 Spiders achieved average prices at physical presence auctions that were just 5% higher than the online prices, which barely offsets the higher commissions. The Ford GT is completely aligned while for the BMW Z8, the difference (albeit a minimal one, at just 3.55%) favours only just slightly the online platforms –$175.000 compared with roughly $169,000.
With the obligatory premise that I am referring to very popular models with price ranges of $50 to $300,000, we can safely say that prices tend to align between the two types of auctions. This, in my opinion, is worthy of note: historic cars is not a “compartmentalized” market but rather one that tends to behave as if all the compartments communicate with one another. That is to say: if online auctions increase, buyers will move to physical sales auctions to “calm down” the virtual alternatives.
Increasingly, online auctions appear to be the third voice of the traditional trade: they provide a broad and constant stream of cars offered with the formula of an expiry date and bidding. In most cases, they incur lower costs for both sellers and buyers. This phenomenon, something that was already in place before the pandemic, has been further accentuated after the big names entered the online arena, bringing this type of sale to the entire market. Everything leads us to think that the marketing of physical auctions and, in any case, of the large “traditional” auction houses, should orient their efforts towards cars that are, in some way special; for their history, for the rarity of the brand or model offered or for the condition of the car in question. This is the springboard to trigger the compelling “battle” in the room – with the support (but only that) of live online phone calls and offers – and recover the true value of auctions: offering special things and triggering challenges to clinch the prize with the objective of either raising the price line or orienting the market (justifying, among other things, the relative fees).
The same applies to brands: from our study of all the cars offered in 2020 by the Big Three (RM, Gooding and Bonhams) it turns out that the three most represented brands at the auctions were Porsche, Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz (in this order, both online and offline). But whereas during physical sales these cars represented just one fifth of all the cars offered (22%) in the case of online sales, this value rose to almost a third (32%). Not only that: by studying the offers, it’s clear how some brands – Porsche and Lamborghini in particular – have a very high presence online, a premise to the possibility of buying at great prices. The opposite holds true for aristocratic brands such as Rolls Royce, Bentley and Jaguar which are more numerous in number offline.
As a dowser I shall stop there: we have not yet found the water we’re looking for but there are some valuable clues to be had here. For example, if you want a youngtimer, even from a famous brand, searching online is the smart choice (and you would pay fewer commissions) but without forgetting that the adrenaline of physical presence auctions is priceless. Especially if you manage to come away with a really special car in your garage.