We've written frequently of late about the coming wave of off-lease vehicles that threatens to flood the used car market with excess supply, crush used car prices and simultaneously wreak havoc on the new car market as well.
As we recently noted (see: "Flood Of Off-Lease Vehicles" Set To Wreak Havoc On New Car Sales), the percentage of new car 'sales' moving off dealer lots via leases has nearly tripled since late 2009 when they hit a low of just over 10%. Over the past 6 years, new leases, as a percent of overall car sales, has soared courtesy of, among other things, low interest rates, stable/rising used car prices and a nation of rental-crazed citizens for whom monthly payment is the only metric used to evaluate a "good deal"...even though leasing a new vehicle is pretty much the worst 'deal' you can possibly find for a rapidly depreciating brand new asset like a car...but we digress.
Of course, what goes up must eventually come down. And all those leases signed on millions of brand new cars over the past several years are about to come off lease and flood the market with cheap, low-mileage used inventory. By the end of 2019, an estimated 12 million low-mileage vehicles are coming off leases inked during a 2014-2016 spurt in new auto sales, according to estimates by Atlanta-based auto auction firm Manheim and Reuters.
So, what do you do when you're industry is being threatened with a massive oversupply situation that could wipe out all pricing power for years to come? Well, since reducing production is simply not tenable, one group of used car dealers in Wisconsin has an alternative solution...delay the problem for as long as possible by starting up a new used car leasing program. Per Ward's Auto:
In a pioneering move, the 10-store Van Horn Group now leases used cars.
The 10-store dealership group in Plymouth, WI, began doing it to serve more customers and expand its pre-owned vehicle inventory, says Mark Watson, vice president-variable operations.
Used-car leasing is something of a rarity. But more and more dealers – such as George Glassman of the Southfield, MI-based Glassman Automotive Group – say it’s a good idea whose time has come and manufacturers should get behind it to help remarket waves of vehicles coming off-lease. That number is approaching 4 million a year.
“We are trying to create with used vehicles a unique position, one that allows us to put the client into more vehicle at a lower payment through a lease,” he says.
“Used car leases are an additional revenue opportunity and keep relationships strong with the bank,” says Tonya Stahl, Wisconsin Consumer Credit’s vice president-operations. “It helps us exceed customer expectations by providing flexible finance options for a successful and continual business relationship.”
Of course, while Van Horn's used car leases provide a great opportunity for him to "double-dip" by effectively selling his used car inventory twice, it does very little to address the underlying problem of oversupply aside from marginally expanding the pool of potential buyers by lowering monthly payments.
Moreover, as Wards notes, used car leasing is not necessarily a new phenomenon as it has historically popped up during previous economic cycles when the auto industry faced similar problems. That said, in past cycles at least, the concept was quickly scrapped after banks realized it's nearly impossible to accurately underwrite the risk on a used vehicle when you have absolutely no idea how badly the car may or may not have been abused by it's first owner.
Used-car leasing is not a new idea, although in the past it has been promoted sporadically, at best. Could used-car leasing now become more mainstream, with a combination of the right new technology and, to put it bluntly, the renewed motivation to forestall a residual-value crisis?
Back when I was in auto retail, some banks did used-car leasing, as some captives do now, and some retailers did well with it, but it was not sustained by financial institutions.
Used-car lease retailers were hard to find, and not that well promoted. Worse, if trying to calculate a new-car lease back then was difficult (we are talking 1980s and 1990s), cyphering a used-car lease was pretty much impossible.
Unlike a new car, every used vehicle is unique, with a unique payment and residual (and forecasting wasn’t as sophisticated back then). Of course, we didn’t have automated vehicle-history reports (so some finance institutions were the victims of fraud on occasion, which no doubt led to the demise of used-vehicle leasing programs.
In the end, of course, this just moves most Americans one step closer to eternal financial hardship as profits are increasingly consolidated into the hands of monopolistic financial institutions who are all too happy to make you think that lower monthly payments are a "great deal" for you when in fact they only serve to insure that you never build any wealth and you never actually own any assets.