Auto Trader Group, the U.K.’s leading automotive vertical, has published its annual financial results for the year to March 31. Profits were up, but the company said Covid-19 has made its immediate future a bit murky.
The full-year period ended just after car sales were halted in the U.K. due to the Covid-19 lockdown, so the pandemic had little bearing on these results. But Auto Trader gave details on the outlook for the next year and the actions it took to protect the business and its customers from April.
As we previously reported, Auto Trader offered free advertising to its retailer customers in April and May and a 25% discount in June. On April 1, Auto Trader raised around £186 million ($232 million U.S.) by issuing 46 million new shares to strengthen its balance sheet and protect its business from the impact of the pandemic. Auto Trader used the U.K. government’s furlough job retention scheme in April and May but all employees returned to work by May 21. It will return all money received from the scheme when the crisis passes.
For the year to March 31, 2020, Auto Trader increased revenue by 4% from £355.1 million to £368.9 million ($460.2 million U.S.). Operating profit increased by 6% to £258.9 million with an operating profit margin of 70%. Profit before tax was up 4% to £251.5 million. Average monthly revenue per showroom increased by 6%, or £105, to £1,949. Its dealer showrooms grew marginally by 105 to 13,345 and the average number of cars in stock was 478,000, up from 461,000 in 2019. Of this, new car listings contributed an average of 31,000 with over 1,000 retailers listing new cars on its marketplace at the end of the financial year.
Cross-platform visits rose by 3% to 50.8 million and the share of time spent by consumers on automotive platforms increased to over 75%, nine times more than its nearest competitor. More retailers also paid 23% more for advanced and premium packages, up from 19% in 2019.
During the year Auto Trader launched a text chat service and its vehicle check product, run in conjunction with credit reference company Experian, to provide extra security services for retailers and customers. It also acquired KeeResources, a data and systems provider which provides vehicle data used for Auto Trader’s core platform. Dealer Auction, its joint venture with Cox Automotive, has been integrated into the businesses, which, Auto Trader said, should “set the business up to leverage the scale of both.”
Looking ahead, Auto Trader said since dealer showrooms reopened in the U.K. it has seen record visits to its website and lead inquiries, with used-car pricing levels still strong. However, the number of dealers fell by 3%, partly due to a smaller number of new retailers replacing ones who left. More customers have exercised 30-day notice periods to leave Auto Trader, though this has not translated into more cancellations yet.
Auto Trader will return to charging full rates to customers starting July 1. It estimates revenue for July 2020 will be lower than in last July by a single-digit percentage. It expects costs initiated through precautionary measures taken in response to Covid-19 to fall by low-to-mid single-digit percentages and therefore can’t give guidance on estimated retailer and stock numbers over the coming months.
However, the company thinks Covid-19 will increase exclusive private vehicle ownership rates and accelerate the shift toward increased digitization of the car buying process.
“We are pleased with our achievements in the past financial year, however we recognize these have been well and truly surpassed by the events of the past few months,” said Nathan Coe, Auto Trader’s CEO. “We’ve been encouraged by the strong initial bounce back in used car demand, and whilst the short-term outlook remains uncertain, we believe the case for moving more of the car-buying process online is stronger than ever.”