Two-thirds of in-market buyers say Covid-19 didn’t affect their vehicle purchase

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 2100 users.

With dealers in England allowed to reopen showrooms to the public from Wednesday, the industry is hoping for one last month of strong sales before the year is over. To say it’s been a difficult 12 months for the UK automotive sector is an understatement, with year-to-year sales down by 31.0% according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

Does that 31% decline accurately gauge demand and provide a meaningful impression of what the next 12 months has in store? Or is it more a reflection of the fact that dealers simply haven’t been able to open their doors for four months of the year?

Our latest weekly industry study of 2122 in-market buyers found that 66% said the Covid-19 pandemic didn’t affect their car buying decision, while one-in-five said they had delayed buying a car due to Covid-19.

The research also found that three percent of buyers brought forward their decision to buy a car, while five percent bought a car during the pandemic with no intention of buying one before.

This suggests that demand in the market is healthier than the current Year-to-Date sales figures suggest – an impression backed up by sales data from months in which dealers were allowed to operate. In October, only retailers in Wales were forced to close their doors, with the market down by only 1.6%.

September saw registrations decline by 4.4%, while August had the market down by 5.8%. In July, we saw months of pent-up demand from the first lockdown result in an 11.3% surge in registrations.

Another indicator of demand stabilising in the market can be found by looking at the estimated timeframes for consumer purchases. Our latest study found that 16% are still aiming to buy a vehicle before the year is over, while 22% are looking to buy in the next three months. Another 22% are also looking to purchase within the next six months.

So while the industry has experienced one of the toughest years in its history, the evidence suggests retailers can look towards 2021 with a hint of optimism – not least because the race to embrace online sales during lockdown has opened up an exciting new car buying platform.

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