2023 Year in Review

After a few crazy years, the market has settled.

Since 2020, the market for classic and exotic cars has experienced tremendous growth. The COVID-19 Pandemic shifted the entire market online, and records were being set across almost every make and model.

From mid-2020 to mid-2022, a seller could put their car up and practically be assured to get more than the most recent comparable sale. Then, in late 2022, interest rate hikes, rumors of a possible recession, and war in eastern Europe created a shift in sentiment. Buyers were less likely to pay record prices, and sellers started to see “Reserve Not Met” more and more. Going into 2023, everyone was bracing for the worst…

And then the market stabilized.

Even though we saw some signs of a market slow-down periodically, we can now say that 2023 was a year where the industry reached a stabilization point.

Given that 2022 was a record-setting year across every single key metric, it’s impressive to see that the variation across all key metrics, except for Top Sale, from 2022 to 2023 was under 10% (up or down). In general, the market strongly sustained itself from the record-setting levels of 2022.

Even though total Dollar Volume was down when compared to 2022 (by 3%), Sold Listings were up 5% and Total Listings were up almost 8%. However, as we’ve mentioned throughout the year, it did become more difficult to sell a car due to many sellers still setting expectations based on expected growth from 2021-2022 prices, vs realistic stability. This resulted in a Sell-through Rate around 64% almost all year – a number not too far from the 2022 figure (67%), and understandable given the increased volume of cars that crossed the block. 

However, the previously mentioned stability doesn’t mean that the industry has remained unchanged. We’ve seen that the industry and market dynamics have indeed shifted now that buyers, sellers and venues have gotten accustomed to the "new normal" of the combination of online and live auctions.

Growth Driven by Online Auctions

There is no denying that the growth of online auctions, spurred by the Pandemic, has contributed immensely to the growth of the collector car market as a whole. In fact, in 2023 online auctions saw a total of $1.9B in sales this year across 42,525 vehicles – representing 63% of all vehicles sold, and 45% of the total Dollar Volume sold at auction. In contrast, when we look at 2019, online auctions represented only 28% of all listings sold, and 15% of Dollar Volume.

Additionally, despite the overall plateauing of the market, online auctions have kept the momentum going – increasing the number of cars listed for sale, which not only grew 8% vs 2022, but also showed a consistent growth trend throughout the year.

Sold Listings over the last 5 years, by Auction Type

Dollar Volume over the last 5 years, by Auction Type

It's no surprise to those who have been watching closely that Bring a Trailer is the clear market leader in the online auction space. When we look at total online auction transactions in 2023, BaT had 64% of Sold Listings and 69% of Dollar Volume. Companies like Cars & Bids and Collecting Cars made impressive gains as well. Our eyes are on these 3 in 2024 as we expect to see even more activity in the online auction space.

Stability Led by Online Auctions

The most important sign shown by the online segment of the industry has been their consistent growth and relative stability. In fact, more cars sold at online auctions in every month of 2023 compared to that same month in 2022.

But when we look at Dollar Volume, that's where the true economic picture of the market starts to show itself. At the beginning of 2023, the Dollar Volume at online auctions trended below 2022 totals – effected by the heavy activity at live auctions during this time, but also due to the overall economic uncertainty. However, this trend reverted in May, and Dollar Volume sold at online auctions beat 2022 numbers throughout the rest of the year (with the exception of October).

Sold Listings in 2023, vs 2022

Dollar Volume in 2023, vs 2022

More Cars Selling Online, for Less Money

This trend of higher Sold Listings with lower Dollar Volume can be explained when looking into what types of cars typically cross the block online.

The increased number of Sold Listings is mainly driven by more inexpensive cars being listed. While market share for each value tier remained relatively stable in terms of sold listings, the market share of dollar volume transacted decreased 4% for cars above $250K. This market share was lost mainly to under $40K cars (2.3%), second to $100-250K cars (1.4%) and lastly to $40-100K cars (0.36%).

Average prices remained fairly consistent relative to previous years (with the exception of 2021), and also throughout the year. This was true for every value tier with the exception of the $1M+ cars, of which we see a handful at online auctions every month. 

Sell-through Rate remained stable around 60-65% throughout the entire year, following the same trend from 2022, although it did start to take a dip during the final quarter of 2023, which was likely the result of an influx of listings. On the other hand, we saw the opposite trend in terms of average price, which increased slightly during these same periods – showing that buyers are being selective, but are still willing to pay for quality vehicles.

Average Price over the last 5 years, by Auction Type

Sell-through Rate over the last 5 years, by Auction Type

Live Auctions Finding Their Groove

Overall, the trend for live auctions was similar to online auctions – Sold Listings were level with 2022, there was a small decrease in Sell-through Rate, and Dollar Volume decreased by 6.5% – not a significant or worrisome figure – which resulted in an Average Price per sale this year of $93K ($5K lower than in 2022).

But as with online auctions, stability was the name of the game. 

Due to the nature of live auctions happening periodically throughout the year (vs consistently every day for online auctions), stability is harder to view on a month-by-month basis. However, there are 4 major live auction events every year that give us a good gauge of the market. In chronological order, they are: Kissimmee and Scottsdale in January, Amelia in March, and Monterey in August.

Sold Listings in 2023, by Auction Type

Dollar Volume in 2023, by Auction Type

As you'll notice in the charts above, the 4 major Live Auction events produce the majority of Dollar Volume in the months that they occur, even though they typically sell less cars (with the exception of Kissimmee). On the whole, this is because more higher-value cars cross the block at these major auction events than at any other time of year. There's no doubt about it, live auctions are still the place to go to see the high-ticket sales of the year. For a recap of each of these major events, see our earlier posts:

Overall, we have seen a trend with less auction houses participating in Scottsdale every year, and many of the Top Sales of the year coming from Amelia and Monterey. In 2024, we expect to see even more of a shift at these events, with Broad Arrow and Gooding and Company both skipping Scottsdale, and RM Sotheby's skipping Amelia for their own new event in Miami. While these major auction events were THE place to go in the pre-pandemic market, the landscape is shifting and we are seeing sales spread out, not only across online auctions, but also in new "Other Live" auctions throughout the year.

Don't get us wrong – the major auction events are still an important gauge of the market, and we expect to see even more live auctions happening in 2024 that buck the traditional timeframe of these major events.

Kissimmee 2024 is already underway, follow it here.

Scottsdale 2024 is coming up on January 20th, follow it here.

Live Auctions Bring Top Sales

The 10 highest sales at auction this year included 6 Ferraris, 2 Mercedes, 1 Jaguar, and 1 Bugatti – all from live auctions and over half from RM Sotheby’s alone.

As we mentioned earlier, live auctions still bring in the biggest ticket sales, and we don't see that changing anytime soon. The top online sale came in at #37 on the Top Sales list in 2023.

Top 3 Live Auction Sales in 2023

Top 3 Online Auction Sales in 2023

⁠Hannah Elliott put it best in her article for Bloomberg: “In a year defined by cooling values and economic uncertainty, collectors remained resolute in their willingness to pay top dollar for the rarest cars in the world.”

View the full list of Top Auction Sales of 2023 >

New Classics Rise the Tides

Affordable classics, cult enthusiast vehicles, and new classics drove the industry in the past 3 years (especially the online auctions) and will continue to impact industry dynamics in 2024. Our 100 Top Markets* of 2023 Report uses the CLASSIC.COM Market Benchmark (CMB)** to rank Markets based on valuation growth in the past 12 months. In 2023, the top 10 Markets all had a CMB under $40K, with the exception of one - the Base Lamborghini Diablo. In fact, only 10 Markets from the Top 100 had a CMB above $100K.

Top 3 Markets in 2023

This doesn’t mean that we won’t see any movement in the high-value spectrum of the market. Like the Diablo, these markets only need one or two great examples to come to auction to drive market values up. Once an adventurous collector decides it is the time to sell and picks the venue correctly, a “call to sell” trend can emerge on a specific market.

Next year, like 2023, probably won’t be a year where we see the most popular/valuable classics and exotics increase dramatically in value. It will most likely be a year where the market will keep expanding in terms of variety, with new cars appearing in the market (new classics will arise) and with affordable classics continuing to appreciate in demand (and therefore in value).

View the full list of 100 Top Markets of 2023 >

What's Next in 2024?

By no means do we have a crystal ball, but what we do know is that:

  1. Online Auctions are here to stay, and they are changing the landscape of the classic and exotic car world. We expect to see an Online Sale break $4M in 2024.
  2. Live Auctions are moving beyond the traditional major events. It's not all about Scottsdale, Amelia, and Monterey anymore – at least not in the way that it was before the Pandemic. Major collections are being sold throughout the year, and with the convenience of online bidding at Live Auctions, the lines are blurring between online and live every day.
  3. New Classics and Affordable Enthusiast Vehicles will continue a growth trend. As Gen X and Millennials continue to generate disposable income and look for alternate investment strategies – and overall joy of owning the cars of their youth – this trend will continue to grow, especially through online channels.
  4. It's more complicated than ever to buy and/or sell a classic, exotic, or collector car. Should you sell it at auction or dealer? If an auction, which kind – online or offline? And which venue? If you decide to sell through a dealer, how do you know if they are trustworthy and that you are getting a fair price? While we don't have all the answers (yet), you can start by Following the Market for the cars you are interested in on our website, and tracking comps for your favorite cars in your Garage... and when you are ready to sell, let one of our CLASSIC.COM Pros handle the hassle for you.

...and stay tuned for even more from us in 2024!

CLASSIC.COM Garage - whats your car worth

* A Market on CLASSIC.COM is a grouping of comparable vehicles that have, at a minimum, the same Make, Model, and Model Generation. When relevant for purposes of valuation, a Market may be further segmented by Model Variant, Trim, Transmission Type, Body Style, and other factors. 

**The CLASSIC.COM Market Benchmark (CMB) is a benchmark value for vehicles in a given Market based on data accumulated by CLASSIC.COM and calculated by a proprietary algorithm that takes into account volume and recency of each data point. CMB can be used to assess the performance of a market over a given time period. However, it does not represent the value of a specific vehicle. Read more in our Glossary of Terms