What Car? Insight weekly update – week seven

Opening dealerships is the key to restarting the automotive economy

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

Nobody reading this will need reminding that the automotive economy plays a hugely significant role in the wider economy. But as we look towards the potential opening date for dealerships on 1 June, I’m reminded of these NFDA stats: on-song, auto retail turnover is worth around £200bn a year, turnover from car sales is around £150bn and automotive retail employs around 750,000 people.

Throughout lockdown, What Car? has witnessed first hand the triggers that engage car buyers. When it was confirmed that car dealers could deliver cars following social distancing guidelines, all-site traffic jumped 24% week on week. When talks with the Government about reopening dealerships were revealed, visitors to our New Car Buying service rose by a massive 59%. And finally, last week’s confirmation that ‘click and collect’ was permitted triggered another 9% rise across the site.

The major trigger to restart the £200bn automotive economy is yet to be pulled: the reopening of dealerships as places of business. Never before has the 1 June date been so important to UK PLC. And despite the transition to remote working and increased comfort in online buying, we should not underestimate the importance of the physical showroom in kick-starting sales.

Our weekly analysis of 4000 consumers demonstrates that.

The majority (68%) of would-be car buyers still want to complete their purchase in person at a dealership, in a socially distanced fashion. In their view, buying a car remains a deeply personal experience that must be done face to face.

Based on anecdotal feedback, this is why communicating and demonstrating the protections in place clearly and consistently – as the PSA Group moved to do last week – will be crucial to improving buyer confidence.

Of course, this does not undermine the clear trajectory of digital purchasing practices as a result of coronavirus; 65% of our respondents say they are more inclined to complete part of their purchasing journey online than pre-lockdown.

However, even the 32% not planning to buy from a dealership visit say they are ready now to purchase by email, phone, text, video or via a website. In other words, they need to interact with a dealership now in order to purchase.

How would you prefer to buy your car?

Email 14%
In person but socially distanced 68%
Phone 4%
Text chat 1%
Via a website 11%
Video 2%
Source: whatcar.com poll

Car buyers are out there

Of course, concerns remain about the health of the car market when lockdown does ease; reports of big-selling car lines having their production stopped shortly after it was restarted due to a shortage of demand are enough to make even the greatest optimist pause for thought.

But what I can say with confidence is that there is a large, growing and highly engaged number of car buyers in the UK.

And, to a point I raised a few weeks ago, it continues to be a marketplace of fewer window shoppers and more genuine buyers. Although we’re still 17% shy of the number of deal enquiries from the week before lockdown, the comparative number of leads from that week to our dealer partners has actually risen by 9.2%.

Sadly, the customer experience still remains mixed; while some dealers are responding to enquiries proactively, many are still missing the opportunities presented to them. While our polling suggests that customers have become more understanding over the time it is taking dealers to respond as lockdown has gone on, more than 60% still expect a response within a day.

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

Some big swings this week, with the Hyundai Kona Electric’s see-saw form of the past few weeks very much in the ascendancy to rank it in the top spot and the BMW 5 Series, Peugeot 2008 and Range Rover landing from outside the top 10 to mix up the order.

The Volvo XC40 continues to be the most-read review this month, buoyed by the arrival of the electric Recharge model and availability after a long period of supply limitations.

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