What Car? Insight weekly update – week eleven

Our best New Car Buying week. Ever.

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 10,000 whatcar.com users.

A new week, new challenges – and a host of new puzzles to ponder.

On one hand, we learned that GDP contracted by 20.4% in April, evidence in part of the economic impact of a suffocated automotive industry.

On the other, there’s growing evidence all around us that consumers are starting to move through the gears, from queues around the block in shopping centres to automotive OEMs and retailers reporting record web traffic, booming used car sales and positive patterns for new car sales.

Is automotive an industry in crisis, or on the rebound? Or both? Is this short-term boost set to be followed by an inevitable downturn, burdened by the economic cost of lockdown that cannot be made back no matter how strong the current uplift?

While these patterns emerge, it’s perhaps better to focus on the here and now, and how we can control it. Good news has been scarce this year, yet we’ve just come off our biggest-ever week generating qualified leads for our dealer and manufacturer partners. Not just since lockdown, but ever, booming January and February included.

There’s momentum there, too. Our enquiry levels were up 54% on the previous week – which was also one of our best ever – and, I hope, a signal of the strength of consumer demand, as well as our exponential growth as a lead generator for the sector.

The funnel is healthy too. We’re seeing 135% more in-market buyers looking for deals than at the start of lockdown in March. Running almost side by side in terms of a health barometer, new car review page views are up by 139% over the same period.

Whatever lies ahead, I’m relieved – and not too shy to self-promote – that What Car?’s power to attract and engage with customers has never been greater. The audience that we are linking to retailers and OEMs is entirely organic and has never been greater in number.

Buyers switching brands remains a significant risk

With all that positivity, you might wonder why I highlight again concerns over the medium-term health of the industry. However, our polling of our audience is on-going, and it remains apparent that much of the activity we are seeing is driven within a bubble of short-termism. Nearly a fifth (22%) of those on the site at the moment are there because their current lease is ending, for instance.

I know I sound like a stuck record, but the data (from nearly 10,000 respondents this week alone) continues to indicate a dwindling number who are planning to buy in six months’ time. In April, that accounted for more than 50% of our research audience; today, it’s just 20%.

That raises the question of strategies and tactics in the coming weeks as the marketing machines begin to properly spring into life: how much effort should go into the conquest of sales today versus nurturing tomorrow’s from a brand perspective?

What I can tell you is that those who are quickest out of the blocks continue to capitalise on a captive audience; 26% of consumers admit that they’re now looking to buy a different brand from the one they originally intended during lockdown (or before).

Our polling doesn’t go back far enough to be sure, but I doubt there has ever been a more competitive time for sales.

To incentivise or not?

Contradictory statements – or rather leaks – from the Government over an incentive scheme continue to have an impact on decision-making, too.

It’s a well-used tactic now by the current administration to ‘test the waters’ through the press to assess whether a policy would be seen as positive or negative in the eyes of the taxpayer – not just those who would actually benefit from it individually.

However, the lack of a concrete statement one way or the other has been an impediment to volume this month, with 33% telling us they’re going to continue to wait for news.

Electrification, anyone?

No question, coronavirus has impacted on people’s willingness to buy an electrified car. Of those polled, 18% are more inclined to buy a hybrid than before the pandemic and 6.5% are more likely to buy a fully electric car. That latter number is down from 8% the previous week, with the indications being that the availability, capability, cost and running challenges of such cars remain barriers for some.

The swiftness with which buyers are acclimatising post-lockdown can be seen by the near-doubling of people – 60% – who are now happy to collect from a dealership rather than having cars delivered at home. Indeed, eight out of 10 are now telling us that they are comfortable kicking the tyres and buying in person.

The most searched-for cars on whatcar.com this week

The exponential growth in page views to our reviews section has shifted the top order this week, with the perennially strong Volkswagen T-Roc surging to top spot for the first time since lockdown began, followed by a newcomer to the top 10, the Mercedes-Benz GLA.

Also notable is the strong showing from Skoda, with the Kodiaq surging since last week and all three of its SUVs making the top 10.

After taking top slot last week following its UK launch driving event, the Honda Jazz is also showing enduring popularity.

New Car Buying: now free to use until the end of September

We have extended our free offer to franchised dealers and OEMs to use our New Car Buying platform and lead management service until the end of September – with no tie-ins for new users, meaning there is no risk.

We recognise that our business can only thrive when retail is thriving again, and that is why we are offering leads from our in-market audience for free.

Current users include Ford Retail, JCT 600, Hendy Group, Marshall Motor Group, Snows, Vertu Motors, Vindis and Waylands Automotive.

If you’re interested in taking advantage, you can contact our support team on 020 8267 4138 or email us at support@whatcar.com.

Rachael Prasher
Managing director, What Car? and Haymarket Automotive