Auctions go mobile to move units

Manheim's mobile sale in Wilmington, N.C. Photo credit: Manheim
CARY, N.C. - 

It’s an unseasonably warm winter morning at the coast of North Carolina, and a vehicle resembling something between a food truck and an RV has set up shop in a parking lot with a satellite dish fixed to the roof.

But this is no tailgate party.

It’s actually a Manheim mobile auction at D&E Mitsubishi in Wilmington.

Dealers gather in and around a set of blue tents across from the truck, a makeshift lane separating them from the large vehicle.

Panel windows open, an auctioneer chants from the truck as cars pass through the lane and dealers bid on the cars. The satellite broadcasts the sale in real time for Internet buyers.

“All the accoutrements you would need to run an auction, we’ve got right here,” Matt Laughridge,director of mobile auction sales and operations at Manheim, said Friday at the sale.

This is one of dozens of Manheim mobile auction locations across the country that the company uses to host 60- mobile sales from coast to coast each month. 

Manheim said it saw a 20-percent increase in mobile auction sales last year, and said one in five of its buyers are mobile-exclusive. More than 70 consignors sell thorugh its mobile sales, including major dealer groups like Hendrick Automotive Group and Asbury Automotive Group.

These sales are a blend of mobility and digital technology, said Grace Huang, senior vice president of Inventory Services at Manheim.

“And it can be anywhere,” Huang said during an interview at the Used Car Week conferences in November. “And we use our technology, which includes Simulcast.

“So, all of a sudden, from the middle of a baseball field or a winery or wherever we are, we have not just the people on the ground, but everybody across the country looking at this inventory.”

In fact, during a mobile sale Manheim conducted for BMW Financial Services last year in Greenville, S.C., the inventory wasn’t even moved.

The sale was conducted via Simulcast on the scoreboard at Fluor Field, as BMW dealers inside the baseball stadium bid on cars.

At this Wilmington sale, it’s all dealer consignment, most of it local. There are 218 vehicles consigned today. There are 217 dealers attending the sale, 140 of which are doing so online. (The 1:1 vehicle-to-dealer ratio is typical for a mobile sale, Laughridge said).

One of the dealers attending the sale in person is Ron Geris, owner of AutoWorld in Conway, S.C.

Though it’s sunny and warm this particularly Friday, Geris will be at the sale no matter the weather. He said he has been attending this mobile sale each week for the past seven or eight years.

“I’ll wear a snowsuit if I have to,” he said, adding: “The worse the weather, the earlier I get here.”

Conway is about an hour-and-a-half drive from Wilmington, making it a convenient option for Geris.

“If I’m saving time, I’m saving money,” he said.

Though the Manheim Darlington physical auction location, for example, happens to be a similar distance from Conway as this mobile sale in Wilmington, that’s not always the case.

For many dealers, a mobile sale may be closer than a Manheim physical auction, Laughridge said.

The mobile sale provides an option that cuts down on time and transportation costs.

And it can be a space-saver on the auction lot, which could be crucial for both consignors and auctions in coming years as inventory ramps up.

Laughridge said that space will be at a premium, with the number of units coming through auction expected to increase 43 percent industry-wide by 2021.

Mobile gives consignors — dealer or otherwise — the chance to liquidate excess inventory quicker.

During the interview at Used Car Week, Huang said one of the more talked-about topics throughout the event was capacity and volume.

While she said that it’s “much better to be on this side”  as opposed to an inventory shortage, the burst in supply presents a challenge not seen in a decade.

“I think there’s a real spirit of partnership in the industry to really work on this together,” she said. “Because we know that we, collectively, don’t have enough capacity if we don’t make some fundamental changes in velocity to keep those cars selling.”

And going mobile is a way to make that happen. 

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