(Bloomberg) -- On Sept. 22, Bring a Trailer surpassed $1 billion in sales for a year that still has more than a quarter to run.
The sum obliterated last year’s total sales at the car auction website, which scored $829 million for all of 2021. That beat the $578 million in total sales that Mecum Auctions reported on Dec. 28, 2021, and is more than double the $407 million in global car auction sales RM Sotheby’s reported for 2021.
Factors seen and unseen have sped the growth, says Randy Nonnenberg, who co-founded the San Francisco-based online auction platform in 2007.
“We were the first marketplace to make all our results permanent and transparent on the website, and that has fostered trust that most other venues don’t have. [Users] see that deep archive of results, and it helps make us their preferred market,” he says. “What isn’t seen are the systems and team behind the scenes that allow us to deliver our current 700-plus auctions per week, 100 every day.”
BAT sells classic and collectible cars online in live auctions that typically last a week. (Some auctions in premium categories run longer.) Anyone can watch in real time as a clock ticks down, bids are placed, and comments—often lively and insightful—are posted. In the final two minutes of any sale, the clock restarts for a further two minutes when users place last-minute bids. At last count, BAT reported 880,000 active users and 390,000 registered bidders.
Products at BAT can range from two record-breaking Porsche Carrera GTs that sold for about $2 million apiece in January to run-of-the-mill classics such as patina-covered Ford Mustangs and Jaguar E-Types. You won’t see many of those at Gooding’s or RM Sotheby’s: BAT’s volume is key to its ability to outpace the competition. The average sale price of a vehicle on BAT last year was $46,435, up from $34,996 in 2020.
The platform has separated itself from traditional houses in more than just its live online auctions, which outfits such as RM Sothebys and Gooding & Co. did not offer until the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020. BAT also requires buyers to pay just 5% of a car’s sale price as a fee, and the figure is capped at $5,000, regardless of the final price. Sellers pay a $99 flat rate. The fees are significantly lower than the double-digit percentages required by the traditional auction houses from both sellers and buyers.
In 2021, BAT sold $828.7 million in cars. That constituted a 108% gain over the $398 million worth that it sold in 2020, and was a quarter-billion more than total sales at Mecum, its closest live-auction-house competitor. And that was just a year after Hearst Autos acquired BAT for an undisclosed amount. At the current rate, Nonnenberg says, BAT is on pace to hit $1.3 billion by yearend.
He says his own personal celebration will come around January, when the sequential lots sold are likely to hit 100,000. It would represent a significant achievement considering that when it first launched, BAT sold cars at a rate of three a week. Total lots sold are currently about to eclipse 87,000, he says.
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