On January 24, the Bonhams auction house will launch a permanent online site for the buying and selling of vintage cars in North America.
Market US will be the first online car auction organized by a major house, following on from a sister site launched for Europe in September. Unlike a normal auction, in which a large group of cars are assembled and sold all at once to the highest bidders, the marketplace will operate on an ongoing basis, almost like a consignment website.
Organizers say Bonhams is directly targeting Bring a Trailer, the category leader launched seven years ago, on which sellers pay $ 99 to list vehicles for a live public sale online. (Bidders must register using a credit card number to guarantee engagement.) BaT has 200,000 registered bidders and 450,000 users, many of whom leave impassioned comments as they watch the auctions roll up.
“Bonhams saw what was going on with competitors like Bring a Trailer – that they were performing extremely well during COVID – and thought it wasn’t going to stop,” said Caroline Cassini, 29-year-old general manager of Market. US. “It gives us the opportunity to reach a broad base.
Bonhams joins a busy online marketplace for the sale of used cars. Ebay Autos, Craigslist, and Hemmings have been doing this for years. BaT, originally an automotive blog co-founded by Randy Nonnenberg and Gentry Underwood, launched in 2007; the auction part opened in 2014. RM Sotheby’s, Gooding & Co., and others have held limited edition car auctions online with some frequency since COVID-19 forced them to shut down live auction in March 2020.
Recently, Porsche-focused PCARMARKET, Cars & Bids and AutoHunter have joined the field. Collecting Cars, which launched in 2019, has sold more than $ 219 million in cars through the platform, including around $ 80 million in the past five months alone, a spokesperson said.
They are all looking for a piece of what BaT has created. In 2017, the site offered less than 5,000 lots in total. Now he sells as much every six months. (Hearst acquired it after a year of fighting gangs in 2020.) April 2020 saw its biggest traffic day on record, with sale rates approaching 80%. Popular ads this week at BaT range from a 1968 Toyota 2000GT that sold for $ 850,000 to a 2000 Chevrolet Metro that sold for $ 18,200. Cassini says Bonhams will focus primarily on vehicles worth $ 100,000 or less.
The share of online platform sales is indeed on the rise. They went from 12% of all auction dollars in early 2020 to over 68% in April, wrote John Wiley, senior analyst for Hagerty, in a market report. According to TrueCar, 40% of new and used vehicle purchases will be digital by 2025.
Market Europe, meanwhile, already has a 90% sales rate on its Instagram page. Most live auction rates range from 70% to 90%. At the Pebble Beach auction earlier this year, for example, Gooding & Co. achieved an 87% sale rate. A Bonhams spokesperson declined to provide information on specific sales.
“Online auctions have effectively replaced live auctions for many vehicles,” said Wiley.
Bonhams’ challenge will be to differentiate himself from fierce competition. The site promises 5% seller fees and, above all, no buyer fees. This is a good deal, compared to the 5% purchase fee at BaT and the 10% or 20% of this fee traditionally applied to live auctions. Bonhams also promises that more than 300 photos of each vehicle will be listed to facilitate virtual verification – but the emptor caveat will apply as much as ever.
“The inspection will be the responsibility of the seller and the potential buyer; we don’t have the car in our hands, ”says Cassini. “If a buyer and seller can meet and do a pre-purchase inspection, we encourage that.”
Pre-war cars will be a particular specialty at Market US, Cassini says, although such vehicles typically cost well over the $ 100,000 mark, she says the bulk of sales will reach. A segment that remains virtually absent from other online sellers, pre-war cars are vehicles built before the start of WWII (which began in 1939), including the BMW 328 Roadster, the Duesenberg Model J, and the Lincoln Zephyr. While the general rule is that people who tend to buy such expensive relics age themselves and are unlikely to buy in a virtual environment, Cassini says that is about to change.
“Bonhams was well respected selling before the war against some of the other auction houses, so we’ll use that advantage here,” she says. “Bring a Trailer and other auction sites don’t have the customer database Bonhams has for selling pre-war items. “
There will, of course, be ‘young’ favorites from the ’80s and’ 90s for sale on the US Market as well, along with a bountiful pile of collectible BMWs and Aston Martins. Last month, Market Europe sold a blue Ferrari F40 for more than $ 1.35 million. A spokesperson for Market US declined to share which cars would specifically go on sale in the United States in January.
Cassini arrives at work particularly well prepared to navigate such waters. His father, retired New Jersey Superior Court Judge Joseph Cassini III, long owned top-notch seven-figure classics, such as a 1934 Packard 1108 Twelve Dietrich Convertible Victoria and a Horch 853A Erdmann & Rossi Sport Cabriolet. from 1938. The cars were Best of Show champions at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2013 and 2004, respectively. Her Danish-born fiance, Jakob Greisen, is the head of the U.S. automotive department at Bonhams and vice president of the auction house.
In 2018, Cassini became the first woman to graduate from the prestigious automotive restoration program at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Last year, working for Fantasy Junction, a vintage car dealership in Emeryville, Calif., She oversaw the sale of a 1935 Auburn Boattail Speedster. It sold – online – for $ 850,000.