What Car? Insight weekly update – week five

What Car? traffic surges as new normal begins to emerge

This is the fifth in a series of weekly updates for industry colleagues from Rachael Prasher, managing director of What Car? and Haymarket Automotive.

I’m starting this week’s summary with a look at page views on whatcar.com, not to be self-indulgent but because we have always considered our website to be a forward-looking barometer for the market.

The positive news is that all three key measures – number of page views on the whole site, number of page views to our reviews and number of page views to our New Car Buying channel, where we link in-market visitors to dealers – were significantly up last week.

Perhaps even more interestingly, while the uptick was strong all week, it steepened substantially over the weekend; week on week, Saturday and Sunday’s traffic was more than 50% up. While the dull weather will have helped, there is clearly significantly more consumer interest in new car buying than at any time during lockdown. In fact, weekend page views – while still 20% down year on year – were greater than those from the week before we went into lockdown.

‘There is clearly significantly more consumer interest in new car buying than at any time during lockdown’

Interestingly, since traffic bottomed out at the height of the crisis, enquiries from new car buyers to dealer partners on our New Car Buying portal have outpaced the growth of other areas of our website – giving further credence to our belief that there is pent-up demand in the market.

Indeed, last weekend’s surge in sales enquiries was just shy of the very strong numbers we enjoyed in early March.

Notably, following a two-week hiatus after below-average response, we resumed our email marketing campaign direct to consumers over the weekend. The engagement was extremely strong, suggesting that car buying is very much front of mind again.

However, we must still be cautious, in part because this is one week of data, boosted by a strong weekend performance, and partly because of the ‘surge’ outlined above. Our reviews page views – the area we would normally expect to find car buyers engaging with at earlier stages of their car-buying journey – show a more steady climb.

While the trace is still rising, the recovery has been more inconsistent and gradual than elsewhere on the site.

In part, this relates to the peak of interest in early March, which traditionally drops away before building again in late summer, but the year-on-year fall is greater than in other areas of the site and potentially indicates that the pipeline of people considering a new car purchase later in the year is not as strong as those ready to buy now.

That sentiment would, of course, tally with the direct feedback being offered by respondents to our weekly pulse surveys, outlined below.

The key question: Are cars available to buy?

The standout trend from our weekly polling of What Car?’s audience this week is the spike in people concerned about the availability of cars from dealers.

In the days before the Government confirmed dealers could sell and deliver cars, it was on the mind of less than one in 33 car buyers. As the news filtered through from industry to public, that figure leapt to just over one in seven.

And this might be the critical factor once confidence starts to return – from the practicalities of supply to consumers’ willingness to purchase. Will they wait for factory orders? Will they happily opt for stock cars? Will they flip from one brand to another based on availability, not just the strength of the offer?

‘The standout trend this week is the spike in people concerned about the availability of cars from dealers’

Combine those looking to buy in the next four weeks with those who want to buy as soon as the coronavirus crisis is ‘over’ and we’re now looking at almost a third of in-market consumers keen to seal a deal. There’s a significant sales opportunity out there now.

However, whether that surge in interest can be sustained in the longer term is still debatable. The pool of people looking to buy in six months’ time or more continues to be shallow. Again, this could be a short-term loss of confidence, with people ‘parking’ their individual plans until the future becomes clearer and more settled. Or it could be a more worrying trend. 

Irrespective of the time scales to purchase, respondents remain impatient when it comes to how long they have to wait for a dealer to call them back. Nearly four in 10 expect a reply within the day, 18% think it’s reasonable to hear back in half a day and a smaller yet ever-increasing group of buyers (7.4%) expect an answer in 60 minutes or less.

As the post-lockdown narrative evolves, we will dive deeper into the motivations of in-market buyers next week to help our dealer and OEM partners prepare for a critical few months for the industry.

When are you looking to buy?

Next four weeks 6.49%
As soon as CV is over 22.92%
Three months 11.12%
Six months 16.63%
More than six months 42.83%
Source: whatcar.com poll

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

1.  Kia e-Niro
2.  Volvo XC40
3.  Ford Puma
4.  Tesla Model 3
5.  Skoda Karoq
6.  Volkswagen T-Roc
7.  Range Rover Evoque
8.  Audi A3
9.  Skoda Kamiq
10.  Volkswagen Polo

The see-saw results for the Kia e-Niro, a former What Car? Car of the Year,  continue. After dropping from the top 10 two weeks ago, it returns now in top spot.

In contrast, the Volvo XC40 and our current Car of the Year, the Ford Puma, have been perennial top three performers during lockdown – form that continues this week.

Elsewhere, the Tesla Model 3 and Audi A3 continue to break the SUV stranglehold, joined by the Volkswagen Polo, which pushes the Ford Kuga to 11th.

Use New Car Buying for free, with no tie-in

Online selling is very much a buzz phrase in our industry right now, so please don’t miss the opportunity to sell to What Car?’s audience through our New Car Buying platform for free during the coronavirus lockdown.

There’s no tie-in period and no charge. We hope you’ll like what you find, but our priority as a business now is to both give our users a good experience and to do everything we can to get the industry back on its feet.

For more information:

If you wish to know more contact our team on 020 8267 4138 or email support@whatcar.com

Rachael Prasher
Managing director, What Car? and Haymarket Automotive