1 in 4 cars sold here in July was a BMW or Mercedes-Benz

And why that matters to everyone else – we analyse August’s COE results before heading into September’s final round of bidding in Singapore

Sometimes, if you want to watch the market for Certificates of Entitlement (COEs), it pays to watch a couple of brands closely. This year, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are the ones to keep an eye on.

In July, BMW had found enough buyers for 453 of its cars, with a further 532 in August. Remarkably, Mercedes somehow put more cars, 763, on the road in July, down to ‘just’ 534 in August.

Only Toyota came remotely close, with 739 in July, though it stretched that lead out to 844 cars in August- but note the figure includes Lexus because the people at the Land Transport Authority(LTA)  think the two brands are the same. 

Keep those numbers in mind as we discuss the uncomfortable highs that COE prices have begun to hit, and ahead of September’s second round of bidding which starts today. 

And if 1 in 4 cars is a BMW or Merc, you can bet a good proportion of those will be SUVs like the newly-launched GLA

In August’s second round of COE bidding, the Category A certificate (for cars with 1.6 litres in engine capacity and less than 130 horsepower) ended up costing S$35,710. That’s not just a yearly high, it’s the highest anyone’s had to pay for one since May 2019 (and even that result was a blip). It’s also S$2,710 more pricey than after August’s first COE auction. To top that, September’s first round of bidding increased the price to S$37,766. 

Category B certificates (for cars with more than 1.6 litres or more than 130hp under the bonnet) hit S$38,802 at the end of August’s bidding, setting a new high for 2020 but merely reverting to where prices were last year. September, like Cat A, brought a rise to S$41,510, again a price level we haven’t seen since May last year. 

As for Category E COEs, used for anything with four wheels and an engine, S$38,110 was the closing price in August, and S$40,790 in September’s first round – also a new high for 2020.

What happens next? 2020 has been a strange year, making COE price movements even harder to predict than usual. After August’s COE bidding was over, some car dealers raised their car prices more or less in line with the rise in COE premiums, but some jerked their prices up by S$4,000 or S$5,000, indicating a belief that more painful price increases are coming.

And when COEs skyrocket, it’s premium brands that pull out to the front of the field, and there’s also a historical precedent to this: Around six years back, when COEs were at high levels, it was BMW and Mercedes-Benz that fought for top spot on the Singapore car sales throne.

Is the pandemic and economy going to stop people buying cars in Singapore? “No way.”

If there’s any reason to hope for lower COE prices, it’s the ongoing economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic. People who have lost their jobs, or feel like they might be about to, are not going to be tempted by new wheels.

Asked about this possibility, one sales manager for a Japanese brand had a succinct reply for us: “No way.” At best, COEs will remain stable, but otherwise competition remains fierce for those symbolic pieces of paper.

Looking at the registration figures: 1,215 cars sold from BMW and Mercedes together, out of 4,825 in total, which 25.2 percent.

In August, that went down a little: 1,070 cars from BMW and Mercedes, out of a total of 5,180, spells for 20.1 percent. But it’s clear from overall sales figures so far in 2020 that Mercedes is one of the top three brands here, and BMW very likely to be fourth.

BMW will be looking to gain ground with aggressive with pricing for its 2 Series models, undercutting the Japanese brands in the process. Mercedes, meanwhile, has launched the new GLA-Class, which will add pressure to the Category B market for certain. Given the above, it’s hard to imagine COE prices coming down anytime soon. In fact we are fairly certain that for September’s second round of COE bidding, which ends on Wednesday, that Category B prices will definitely spike.

If you watch BMW and Mercedes, the next thing to watch will be the Category B premium.

about the author

Leow Julen
CarBuyer's managing editor is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 25 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.