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The days of live classic car auctions at Barrett-Jackson, Mecum Auctions, and RM Sotheby’s aren’t over but are losing popularity in a post-COVID world where online auctions have become all the rage. 

Bloomberg reports digital auction platform Bring a Trailer,” also known as BaT, has become a hit with the classic car enthusiast community. Collectors are selling their cars on BaT instead of traditional live auctions. 

In 2021, BaT sold $828.7 million worth of cars, more than a 100% jump over the $398 million sold in 2020 and a quarter billion more than any live-auction-house competitor (Mecum Auctions reported $578 million in total sales, RM Sotheby’s reported around $407 million, and Barrett-Jackson a little more than $191 million last year). 

For the first time last year, online auctions surpassed live auctions, selling 20,000 cars compared with 16,000, according to data from classic car insurer Hagerty. 

Hagerty’s Kevin Fisher said online car sales were up 107% YoY, jumping from $492.5 million sold in 2020 to $1.02 billion in 2021. 

“Online and live auctions were on fire last year,” Fisher said. 

BaT reports that highly collectible cars, usually reserved for live auctions, are being sold on its website. “Moving online removes the middle men in an inherently opaque industry cloaked by backdoor deals, insider favors and clubby agreements between power brokers,” Bloomberg said. 

Since the pandemic began, attendance plummeted at live auctions as sales of blue-chip cars shifted to online auctions. Top auction houses have reduced the number of live auctions.

The days of live classic car auctions in big fancy white tents with Champagne and beautiful women aren’t over, but for the time being, online auctions appear to be red hot. 

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