Six months on from Covid-19 – how have buying intentions changed?

Person browsing dealership

This is the latest report in a series of weekly updates for industry colleagues from Rachael Prasher, managing director of What Car? and Haymarket Automotive. Quoted poll data is from more than 8000 users.

September will be a crucial month for UK new car sales – and serve as a good indicator of the health of the market as it enters the final quarter of the year. 

Our analysis of buyer time-frames suggests the market is stabilising from a significant period of forced closure and uncertainty, followed by a wave of pent-up demand. 

In July, we saw demand drive the first monthly year-on-year rise in new car registrations for the whole year. However, the new car market cannot survive on a single wave of demand. What it needs is a balanced split of buyers intending to buy in the short, medium and long term. 

And our analysis of 8029 in-market buyers suggests the market is finally starting to steady towards this direction after a turbulent second and third quarter. Polling when buyers will next purchase a vehicle, 22.34% told us they are looking to buy in the next four weeks, while 20.60% will look to purchase in the next three months, and 15.99% in the next six months. 

To understand how far we’ve come, we compared how the intentions have shifted since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

In March, more than half of all buyers said they were postponing their next purchase to at least six months, with just 7.99% looking to buy in three months’ time. As a sign of pent-up demand, nearly a fifth wanted to purchase as soon as dealerships reopened their doors.

This demand grew throughout the period of dealership closures, reaching 24.91% in May before dealers reopened in June. 

Crucially, as the months have rolled on, the share of buyers postponing their purchase by at least six months has fallen significantly. In April, it went below 50% for the first time, dropping to just 25% in May, and has since stayed at below 20% since late June. 

With the market gradually stabilising, it doesn’t mean dealers will necessarily experience the same volume of sales as pre-Covid-19 – rather the share of buyers entering showrooms will be more stable than in recent months.  

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