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Consumers' car-buying habits have been unchanged by pandemic

February 5, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the auto industry has been well documented, from massive drops in sales for part of the year to automakers struggling to implement effective rules for plant workers to how companies had to alter the way they do business to survive.
But what has been tougher to track is how it has impacted consumers and if their habits have been changed when it comes to the process of selecting, buying and paying for new vehicles. Deloitte’s newest report, the 2021 Global Automotive Consumer Study, sheds light on what to expect in the near term: people like what’s familiar and it’s going to show up in their buying habits.
"The global automotive industry, like many others, has been profoundly impacted by the pandemic," said Harald Proff, Deloitte Global automotive leader and partner, Deloitte Germany, who led the development of the report, which interviewed more than 24,000 people in 23 countries.
"That said," Proff added, "the momentum toward a more connected vehicle future remains bright and full of promise. Ever stricter vehicle emissions requirements in many markets around the world are also pushing the goal of electric mobility forward. Efforts to realize these technologies open up a new world of possibility."
Familiarity means that the long-awaited push into electric vehicles may take a bit longer than expected, as 74% of U.S. consumers plan to make their next vehicle a traditional car, truck or utility vehicle powered by a gasoline or diesel engine.
The ranges of EVs have been increasing steadily, in many cases putting them on par with gas- and diesel-powered vehicles. But range anxiety still is the biggest impediment to battery-car acceptance, as 28% of respondents said that was their primary reason for not being interested. Further, less than half — 44% — of Americans believed the technology to be "beneficial."
However, among American who want an electric vehicle, it appears an overwhelming majority, 70%, plan to charge that vehicle at home. A reticence about EVs doesn’t necessarily mean a fear of technology, as those intenders said they found advanced driver assistance systems, such as blind-spot detection, very appealing.
Excitement about safer cars through the use of advanced technology isn’t necessarily a guarantee of that same warm fuzzy feeling transferring to the sales process. For the number of people buying vehicles online during the pandemic, it appears that it was done out of necessity more than preference.
Seventy-one percent of U.S. vehicle buyers prefer an "in-person sales experience," the study revealed. The biggest part of that, 75%, want to see and touch the vehicle before they buy it, and 64% wanted some time behind the wheel as well.
"Unlike many other retail sectors that have seen a wholesale shift to online buying, purchasing a vehicle remains a largely personal experience for many consumers," said Karen Bowman, a Deloitte vice chairwoman.
"However, some people will be looking for a virtual sales experience to maximize convenience, speed and ease of use. This will likely result in a more complicated, and potentially costly, set of consumer expectations for dealers to meet at a time when businesses are looking to recover and thrive in the wake of the pandemic."
One area where U.S. consumers were happy to see handled via the internet was vehicle service. The ability to get online and have a car or SUV picked up by a dealer at home or work was appealing, with 46% of respondents in favor of that type of interaction — provided it is free. 
The shift to online purchasing during the pandemic didn’t appear to hinder sales, although the pandemic itself did, as more than one-third of U.S. consumers delayed their vehicle purchase.
 
 

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