Online Classic Car Auctions Break out Beyond Bring a Trailer

Although trying to auction your car doesn’t always go smoothly, the process is easier than ever, especially for classic cars. Much like ‘traditional’ car dealerships, classic car auctions have gone increasingly digital, especially since the start of the COVID pandemic. This increased focus on online car auctions has let dedicated websites like Bring a Trailer grow tremendously over the last few years. And now, these sites are about to change from ‘alternative choices’ to ‘the establishment.’

Online classic car auctions are overtaking live ones, and Bring a Trailer is leading the charge

People place bids in-person and online on classic cars at the 2020 Mecum Kissimmee auction
People place bids in-person and online on classic cars at the 2020 Mecum Kissimmee auction | Patrick Connolly/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

It’s safe to say that Bring a Trailer had a solid 2021, financially speaking. The online car auction company had a gross revenue of $828 million, up from $398 million in 2020, the New York Times reports. That revenue comes from 17,846 sales, the top 10 of which each sold for over $1 million. One of those, a 1961 Mercedes 300SL Roadster, set a Bring a Trailer record, going for slightly more than $1.43 million. A 2005 Porsche Carrera GT just broke that record, though, selling for just over $1.9 million.

In addition, this online car auction company beat Mecum and RM Sotheby’s in total 2021 sales, Bloomberg says. Mecum ‘only’ sold $578 million worth of cars in 2021, while RM Sotheby’s raked in $407 million. Furthermore, Hagerty’s research suggests that, given identical cars, people will pay more for the one on BaT.

BaT’s 2021 success comes as the car auction world, classic and otherwise, is becoming more and more online. Although in-person events brought in slightly more money, online auctions sold more cars overall. According to Hagerty, online auctions sold 20,000 cars, while live auctions only moved 16,000 cars.

Bring a Trailer is about to get some extra competition from new sites and traditional auction houses

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Although BaT dominated the online car auction world, it might not occupy the #1 slot for much longer.

For one, several other websites have followed its community-driven business model and created more specialized spaces. Rad for Sale, for example, focuses on Radwood-era vehicles, which have become increasingly popular in recent years. Meanwhile, Cars & Bids features cars from the 1980s, 19990s, and 2000s, including modern ones. And if you want to shop supercars, there’s a website for that now, too: Sackey and Co.

In addition, established auction houses are expanding their online presence, especially where classic cars are concerned. Bonhams, for instance, is about to launch a US version of its auction website. Plus, Mecum just partnered up with MotorTrend to deliver live, continuous coverage of all the former’s live auctions. And that undoubtedly contributed to the recent 2022 Kissimmee auction being the most-watched Mecum event ever.

Will online car auctions keep growing?

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But even if Bring a Trailer isn’t the #1 online car auction company in 2022, it’s clear that they’re here to stay. And while a live auction, whether at Mecum or another place, is genuinely exciting, there are several reasons why online ones have become so popular. These same reasons also explain why they’ll likely continue to grow.

For one, BaT and auction sites like it grow communities of classic and modern car fans. With the constant risk of infection at in-person events, websites fill in the hangout gap, at least somewhat.

Secondly, as noted earlier, car shopping and buying have shifted more and more online throughout the pandemic. It’s now easier than ever to window-shop for vehicles, especially since auction sites require and/or recommend high-quality images and videos. And because of this information, bidders are more confident about putting money down on a vehicle sight-unseen.

Also, more time spent online means a greater chance of running into evidence of trends like overlanding and #vanlife. And going from looking at Instagram photos of lifted, kitchen-equipped vans to shopping for old Delicas just takes a few clicks. You won’t often find a vehicle like that at, say, an RM Sotheby’s auction. But you likely will see it on Cars & Bids or BaT.

Arguably, the question isn’t, ‘will online classic car auctions keep growing?’ It’s, ‘why wouldn’t they?’

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