How consumers’ behavior in car buying and mobility is changing amid COVID-19

A freeze in mobility was one of the most visible signs of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that economies are opening up again, how are mobility behavior and car sales changing?

Updated September 22, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many industries, but the automotive and mobility industries are among the hardest hit. Consumers across the globe continue to face severe health and financial concerns, and mobility remains somewhat restricted in many parts of the world. Many car dealerships closed, and car buying ground to a halt, with sales plummeting 71 percent in China in February 2020, 47 percent in the US in April, and 80 percent in Europe also in April. Likewise, mobility behavior has changed drastically, as many commuters have worked from home and others have stayed away from public transportation due to health concerns.

Now, as economies have reopened, automotive OEMs, car dealers, and government officials need to know how long the recovery will take and what the next normal will look like. Overall, we see significant signs of recovery across the different Regions and along several indicators.

To help answer this, we are surveying consumers in the US, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, and China biweekly on their mobility and behaviors around car buying and servicing. Our survey looks at both current consumer sentiment and their anticipated future behavior as economies find a next normal.

Our findings from the fifth wave of the survey, conducted September 2-4, are summarized here.

Car buying and servicing

When it comes to buying cars, purchase intent is still 14 percent below pre-COVID-19 levels, which, however, is a four percentage point improvement over our previous survey wave from the end of May. This comes with significant geographical differences:

  • New and used car purchase intent for next 12 months recovered to - 10% (up 5 percentage points vs. July) and -7% (up 3 PP vs. July) vs. pre- COVID-19 level; both values represent highest results since COVID disruption
  • Purchase intent increasing across all regions vs last survey, especially amongst higher-income households
  • All regions except China are still looking to spend less on their car than before COVID, however, planned spent on vehicle has improved across all geographies vs. previous waves.
  • Respondents in US, UK and Japan are less focused on EV/PHEV and ADAS features vs. their pre-COVID-19 purchase intent, while in China the opposite holds true
  • Share of customers buying “independently of discounts” increased across all markets, indicating a more robust purchase intent
  • Larger share of consumers in US perceived higher discounts vs. previous waves. Slight decrease in Europe and Asia
  • Digital becomes more important along the entire purchase funnel; less than a third of younger consumers prefer conducting car sales & aftersales in person at a dealership; Respondents are even more interested in contactless services, approximately half of respondents willing to pay extra for this service
  • Aftermarket continues to improve. During last month more customers did additional work vs. delayed work – outlook for next month remains positive and stable

Mobility

  • 52% (vs. 58% in July) of respondents travel less than before COVID-19
  • Post-COVID-19, consumers are likely to return to pre-COVID-19 habits; walking, biking, and micro-mobility might potentially become more popular
  • Shift from airplane and train to private vehicle for intercity travelling clearly visible across all regions
  • A third of consumers value constant access to a private vehicle more than before COVID-19, esp. amongst younger consumers

This article will be continuously updated.

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