The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the auto industry has been well documented, from massive drops in sales for part of the year to automakers struggling to implement effective rules for plant workers to how companies had to alter the way they do business to survive.
However, what has been tougher to track is how it has impacted consumers and if their habits have been changed when it comes to the selecting, buying and paying for new vehicles. Deloitte’s newest report, the 2021 Global Automotive Consumer Study, sheds light on what to expect in the near term: people like what’s familiar and it’s going to show up in their buying habits.
“The global automotive industry, like many others, has been profoundly impacted by the pandemic,” said Harald Proff, Deloitte Global automotive leader and partner, Deloitte Germany, who led the development of the report, which interviewed more than 24,000 people in 23 countries.
“That said, the momentum toward a more connected vehicle future remains bright and full of promise. Ever stricter vehicle emissions requirements in many markets around the world are also pushing the goal of electric mobility forward. Efforts to realize these technologies will open up a new world of possibility.”
Familiarity means that the long-awaited push into electric vehicles may take a bit longer than expected as 74% of U.S. consumers plan to make their next vehicle a traditional car, truck or utility vehicle powered by a gasoline or diesel engine.
Although the ranges of EVs have been steadily increasing, in many cases they’re now on par with gas- and diesel-powered vehicles, range anxiety is still the biggest impediment to battery-car acceptance as 28% of respondents said that was their primary reason for not being interested. Further less than half, 44%, of Americans believed the technology to be “beneficial.”
However, if you are an American wanting an electric vehicle, it appears an overwhelming majority, 70%, plan to charge that vehicle at home. A reticence about EVs doesn’t necessarily mean a fear of technology as 70% said they found advanced driver assistance systems, like blind-spot detection, very appealing.
Excitement about safer cars through the use of advanced technology isn’t necessarily a guarantee of that same warm fuzzy feeling transferring to the sales process. While the number of people buying vehicles online during the pandemic, it appears that it was done out of necessity more than preference.
Seventy-one percent of U.S. vehicle buyers prefer an “in-person sales experience,” the study revealed. This biggest part of that is 75% want to see and touch the vehicle before they buy it, with 64% needed some time behind the wheel as well.
“Unlike many other retail sectors that have seen a wholesale shift to online buying, purchasing a vehicle remains a largely personal experience for many consumers,” said Karen Bowman, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP and U.S. automotive sector leader.
“However, some people will be looking for a virtual sales experience to maximize convenience, speed and ease of use. This will likely result in a more complicated, and potentially costly, set of consumer expectations for dealers to meet at a time when businesses are looking to recover and thrive in the wake of the pandemic.”
One area where U.S. consumers were happy to see handled via the internet was vehicle service. The ability to get online and have your car or SUV picked up by a dealer at home or work was appealing with 46% of respondents in favor of that type of interaction — provided it is free. The shift to online purchasing during the pandemic didn’t appear to hinder sales, although the event itself did as more than a third of U.S. consumers delayed their purchase of a vehicle.