What you need to know

The automotive industry makes up one of the biggest segments of the U.S. economy, and used cars make an important contribution to this sector, with an estimated $331.5 billion in sales in 2010. Whether sold directly by individuals, through dealers focused on used cars, or new car dealers that offer certified pre-owned models, used car and truck sales provide important flexibility for U.S. consumers, allowing them to purchase vehicles at more affordable prices and also benefit from programs like leases and trade-ins. This report will provide an in-depth discussion of the used car market, including:

  • An estimate of market revenues from 2005-10, with forecasts through 2015, providing insight into the future growth expected for the used car market;

  • Discussion of how new car sales compete with used car sales, including recent sweeping changes in the new car market, such as brand consolidation;

  • An analysis of key drivers affecting the used car market, such as a continued slow economy, climbing gas prices, and availability issues for some Japanese new car models due to the tragic earthquake and tsunami that hit the region earlier this year;

  • An overview of the leading players in this market—including their advertising and marketing strategies—providing valuable guidance for winning strategies in this market; and

  • Consumer attitudes and motivations impacting decision making and purchasing behavior.


This report explores the market for used automobiles, including both cars and light trucks. It includes discussion of both person-to-person and dealer/retail sales. Extended warranties, car rentals, car repairs, and automotive accessories are not included in market sale estimates, nor are new car sales and leases (although these may be discussed as competitors).

Data sources

Sales data

  • Market size and forecast: Mintel/Manheim Consulting

  • Segment performance: Mintel/NIADA

  • Leading companies: Mintel estimates based on industry data and company reports

Consumer survey data

For the purposes of this report, Mintel commissioned exclusive consumer research through Toluna USA to explore consumer consumption of and attitudes toward used cars and trucks. Fieldwork was conducted March 1-14, 2011 among a nationally representative sample (weighted against the total population for estimation) of 2,000 adults aged 18 and older.

Mintel selects survey respondents so that they are proportionally balanced to the entire U.S. adult population based on the key demographics of gender, age, household income, and region. Mintel also slightly oversamples, relative to the population, respondents that are Hispanic or black to ensure an adequate representation of these groups in our survey results. Please note that our surveys are conducted online and in English only. Hispanics, Asians, and others who are not online and/or do not speak English are not included in our survey results.

Mintel also has analyzed data from Experian Simmons research, using mainly the Experian Simmons NCS/NHCS: Summer 2010 Adult 6 Month —POP. This was carried out during February 2010-September 2010, and the results presented here are based on the sample of 11,681 adults aged 18 and older, with results weighted to represent the U.S. population. Only those results of statistical significance are included.

While race and Hispanic origin are separate demographic characteristics, Mintel often compares them to each other. Please note that the responses for race (white, black, Asian, Native American, or other race) will overlap those that also are Hispanic, because Hispanics can be of any race.

Advertising creative

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VMS tracks competitive advertising content and activity in key industries across a broad spectrum of local and national media. VMS also captures and measures local and national editorial activity related to industries and brands to provide marketers with a unique view of the total media environment in which they compete.

Abbreviations and terms


There follows a list of abbreviations used in this report:

B2B Business-to-business
BLS Bureau of Labor Statistics
CPI Consumer Price Index
CPO Certified Pre-Owned
GDP Gross Domestic Product
GM General Motors
KBB Kelley Blue Book
LLC Limited liability company
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Auto mall Retail location housing several different car dealerships
Car Unless otherwise specified, the term car is used in this report synonymously with any consumer-oriented automobile, including light trucks such as SUVs, minivans, and pick-up trucks.
Cash for Clunkers Popular name for the U.S. “Car Allowance Rebate System,” a 2009 federal government program offering added cash incentives for trade-ins of fuel-inefficient cars
Hybrid Vehicle jointly powered by an on-board rechargeable battery as well as a combustible fuel source
Manheim Used Car Index Metric for average used car pricing, based on average wholesale used car pricing with pricing in January 1995 representing 100

In order to provide an inflation-adjusted price value for markets Mintel uses the CPI to deflate current prices. The CPI is defined as follows:

CPI The Consumer Price Index is a measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services.

The CPI and its components are typically used to adjust other economic series for price changes and to translate these series into inflation-free dollars. Examples of series adjusted by the CPI include retail sales, hourly and weekly earnings, and components of the national income and product accounts. In addition, and in Mintel reports, the CPI is used as a deflator of the value of the consumer’s dollar to find its purchasing power. The purchasing power of the consumer’s dollar measures the change in the value to the consumer of goods and services that a dollar will buy at different dates.

The CPI is generally the best measure for adjusting payments to consumers when the intent is to allow consumers to purchase, at today’s prices, a market basket of goods and services equivalent to one that they could purchase in an earlier period. It is also the best measure to use to translate retail sales into real or inflation-free dollars.

Based on Bureau of Labor Statistics definition.
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