Are we looking at the wrong scoreboard? Dana Mecum thinks we are

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Photos by Larry Edsall
Photos by Larry Edsall
Photos by Larry Edsall

When we report to you about classic car auctions,  we tend to focus on the highest dollar sales figures: Which auction house sold the most expensive car in Monterey? Which auction house took in the most money in Arizona?

Dana Mecum thinks we’re looking at the wrong scoreboard.

mecum7Mecum points out that when the OEMs — the original equipment auto makers who produce the cars that might someday become classics — when the auto manufacturers tally up their monthly and annual scorecards, “No. 1 is whomever produced and sold the most cars.”

That’s the most as in volume, not as in the most expensive.

Of course, Mecum likes keeping score by volume rather than by dollars because Mecum Auctions is the classic car volume leader.

“CNN reported that 19,000 cars were offered at classic car auctions in 2013,” Mecum said. “Well, we offered 12,000 of them. That’s 65 percent of the market.”

Mecum added that he’s not claiming that big a slice of the marketplace. Instead, he said, “I think their number was low. I think it’s more like 24,000 or 25,000 vehicles.”

But that still leaves Mecum controlling half of the classic car auction market, at least in terms of total vehicles.

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Mecum said his perspective is based in part because of his personal experience. “My father has been selling cars for more than 60 years,” he said. “In the 1960s, he was the largest wholesale fleet dealer in the world. I’ve always been around large groups of cars. Five-hundred cars. Two-thousand cars.”

While the auto makers continued to focus on volume, “years ago, people in the collector car industry started counting success by dollar volume,” Mecum said. “I disagreed.”

While Mecum agrees that dollars are one way to keep score, they are not the only way. Nonetheless, he’s willing to play that game.

“If you take what I call the major auction companies and go to the dollar volume,” Mecum said, “there are four that sell more than $25 million a year: Us, Barrett-Jackson, RM and Gooding.

“If you take those four and the number of cars sold, we’re at 70 percent [of the market]. If you take the dollar volume, we’re [still] at about 35 percent.”

Mecum chuckles at those who try to make the classic car marketplace more complicated than it is.

“It’s such a basically simple industry,” he said. “It runs on middle-school economics: Supply and demand.”

Sounds to me as if Mecum definitely is into the supply side of the economic equation. What do you think?

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.