What Car? Insight weekly update – week six

Beware the impatient buyer: one in three will only wait a month for their new car

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

Although the mooted 1 June date for a return to work is farther off than many anticipated, here’s a statistic from our latest – and now extended – consumer analysis of whatcar.com visitors to focus minds: nearly 33% of in-market buyers have indicated they are only willing to wait up to four weeks for a factory order to be delivered. Any more and they will pivot to another option.

Additionally, a further 25% are unwilling to wait more than eight weeks for their new car. That’s optimistic at the best of times, let alone when the lid on lockdown has barely been cracked open, and of course it presents everyone with challenges that are going to need to be tackled if customers aren’t going to be lost – altogether, or to a used car alternative or a rival brand.

Clearly, patience is going to be something that needs addressing, both by dealers on the frontline and by OEMs from an operational perspective. Given that the ramping up of production is a gradual process and is being closely monitored by most as they look to turn stock into cash before pushing output up too far, it presents a tricky situation for everyone looking to get their sales charts pointing upwards again.

But the alternatives do not make for good reading in a market where every sale will count. One in eight of our respondents said they would switch their order to another brand if an alternative model on their shortlist was available sooner.

While multi-franchise groups might see opportunities in that, it will very much depend on them being set up and prepared to keep the sale by cross-pollinating prospects now. For many, that will be an unfamiliar sales practice.

An equally eyebrow-raising figure is the 31% who said they would actually choose to delay their purchase if expectations on waiting times could not be met. While a pipeline of orders is critical to long-term success and stability in the new car market, the threat of nearly a third of would-be buyers pushing a purchase back if faced by an unacceptable delay seems certain to hold back any recovery.

However, the positive flipside to all of this is that the needs of the majority – end of lease, change of circumstances – outweigh the ability to postpone. They simply have to change their car.

‘The positive flipside to all of this is that the needs of the majority – end of lease, change of circumstances – outweigh the ability to postpone’

It’s an obvious conclusion, therefore, that promotion of in-stock models will be important to keep a prospect within the franchise, with 15% indicating they would happily go down that road rather than waiting; a further 25% will look at nearly new alternatives and 16.6% will consider buying used.

These indicators also clearly point to the emergence of the ‘flip-flop’ new car buyer as the strict lockdown measures begin to ease. The question is whether retailers and OEMs are ready and agile enough to deal with this.

In the coming weeks, greater alertness to the commitment of a prospect and the ability to make a swift counter-offer (with a stock vehicle, a nearly new car or a model from another brand within the group) are arguably going to make more of a difference than ever before.

Another positive week for car buying enquiries

Last week I delved into traffic on whatcar.com as an indicator of heightening positivity among would-be car buyers; I’m delighted to report that the positive trends have largely continued.

Overall traffic on whatcar.com has dipped slightly over the past seven days – although by less than we would expect for a largely sun-drenched bank holiday week. Notably, however, page views in our New Car Buying section – linking car buyers to retailers – rose for the sixth successive week and are now at 85% of the levels we enjoyed in early March.

Encouragingly, page views of our reviews section also rose week on week – despite the wider drop. As noted last week, interest in reviews has experienced a shallower growth curve than other sections of the website, indicating some hesitance in attitudes to car buying in the longer term. Some of that reticence now appears to be lifting.

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

The Volvo XC40 returns to the top of the charts, the performance of all models buoyed by recent interest in the all-electric Recharge model and wider availability at increasing discounts.

It is backed up by two further electric models: the Hyundai Kona Electric, which powers back into the top 10, and the ever-present Tesla Model 3. Four of the top 10 models are available with fully electric power.

Notably, the new Audi A3 Sportback has dropped out of the top 10 for the first time in two months, indicating interest could be waning before it has been able to be publicly delivered.

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Rachael Prasher
Managing director, What Car? and Haymarket Automotive