The pandemic changed much about what’s considered the “norm” in U.S. society these days, especially how people plan to meet their needs for transportation and mobility.
According to a new study by CarGurus.com, significant numbers of Americans remain committed to changes they said they planned to implement to meet their mobility needs going forward. For example, use of shared transportation, such as public transport or ride-sharing services, is on the decline.
Only half (54%) of consumers who previously used ride-share services expect to return to their pre-pandemic activity in the next year, and few more (59%) plan to in the long term, the website noted. CarGurus has conducted its COVID-19 sentiment study three times before the most recent effort to track changes in how Americans are planning for the near- and long-term — not much has changed.
“Our most recent COVID-19 consumer sentiment study has shown that the pandemic has reshaped transportation and car-shopping for the foreseeable future,” said Madison Gross, director of Consumer Insights at CarGurus.
“As consumers continue to steer clear of shared mobility and turn to purchasing their own vehicle instead, they’re faced with rising prices due to the current inventory constraints. At the same time, shoppers have gotten used to the ease of digital retail, with more people hoping to complete part of the car-buying process at home.”
The shift away from communal transportation is part of the driving force by the current automotive marketplace. The demand for vehicles is strong, but inventories are low due to the ongoing semiconductor shortage. The result? The average transaction price for a new vehicle — and used vehicle prices too — are at all-time highs.
However, there are still plenty of wannabe buyers out there and they’re expecting many of the changes implemented by dealers and automakers due to the pandemic to remain in place long after it finally abates.
The study showed more and more people are utilizing the bolstered internet presence of dealers and automakers in their vehicle-buying experience. In fact, 60% of those surveyed say they’d prefer to do more of the process from home going forward.
The lack of personal contact is certainly a theme in the findings as potential buyers are most interested in pre-scheduled dealership appointments (46%), solo test drives (42%), test drive at home (32%), and at-home delivery (30%).
Here and now
Some of the impact can be felt right now. As previously mentioned, demand is high right now because Americans have been able to weather the storm through spending cutbacks — many of them due to pandemic-related shutdowns of restaurants, shops and entertainment venues — and stimulus money.
Despite most of the restrictions being lifted for several months, the demand for vehicles is not being met so many buyers are still looking. Even the recent resurgence of the virus in some parts of the country hasn’t changed the overall trend of wanting new vehicles or other big-ticket items.
Major life changes like moving to a new house (29%), getting a new job (22%), and working from home (12%) have also made people more interested in buying a car this year, the study showed.
The inventory shortage is hitting buyers: The majority (58%) of shoppers are aware of high vehicle prices as a result of low inventory, an increase from 26% in November 2020. In-person shopping returns cautiously: Consumers are much more comfortable shopping in-store this year, but they are still wanting a safe experience with the majority (51%) expecting dealers to continue wearing masks.