The Cars Online 2010/11’s key findings illustrate the major trends that are shaping the automotive industry today. These trends reflect the industry’s latest shift towards stability and even growth.
- Use of the Internet continues to expand into new areas
- Social media becomes more influential in vehicle buying decisions
- Smartphone applications represent an emerging channel for customer interaction
- Aftersales servicing is a growing factor in consumers’ choice of vehicle
- Consumer demand for alternative buying models increases
- The demand for new vehicles grows in mature markets
- Consumers in developing markets are more demanding about dealerships
- The vehicle buying cycle continues to shrink
Use of the Internet during the vehicle buying process and ownership lifecycle continues to expand into new areas
Use of the web to research vehicles edged upwards this year, reaching 94% overall, driven in part by increased use in developing markets. More importantly, the use of the Internet has expanded to include: online purchases of vehicles, parts and accessories, growing reliance on social media for vehicle and dealer information, and mobile web usage during the buying cycle and post-sale.
Consumers, particularly in developing markets, are increasingly relying on social media during the research process. The content that consumers find on these sites can be influential in their buying decisions: 71% said they would likely purchase a vehicle from a particular car manufacturer or dealer if they found positive comments posted on social media sites and 51% said they would be less likely to buy a vehicle from a particular manufacturer or dealer if they found negative comments.
Consumers indicated strong interest in mobile/smartphone applications for their vehicle, particularly post-sale. Apps considered most useful by consumers include remote locking/unlocking of vehicle doors (named by 68% of respondents), service reminders (67%) and roadside assistance with an easy-to-navigate single click (67%).
Aftersales servicing is a growing factor in consumers' choice of vehicle and can be a key to vehicle sales
Servicing is taking on a bigger role for many consumers, particularly in developing markets. Aftersales servicing ranked as the 4th most important factor in selecting a vehicle this year (tied with interior/exterior styling and fuel economy), up from 7th position the prior year. In addition, servicing dealers can influence future buying decisions. More than half of respondents said they were likely to buy their next vehicle from the same dealer they currently use for servicing.
Increasing consumer demand for alternative buying models reflects a growing shift from products to services
Nearly 40% of respondents would consider a vehicle-sharing or ride-share program as an alternative to traditional buying/leasing of a vehicle, and almost half would look at a mobility package. This offers access to a variety of vehicles, services and accessories that can be used as needed by the consumer for a fixed price and a specified time frame, such as "Mu by Peugeot".
In a positive sign for the industry, a higher number of respondents from the mature countries were in the market for new vehicles this year, especially smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. This may reflect a return on the investments made by manufacturers in new product development, especially around smaller vehicles, alternative fuels, infotainment and communication technology, navigation systems, and safety and quality features.
Consumers in developing markets have become more demanding about both the quality and quantity of car dealerships
As the number of vehicle owners and dealerships increases in markets such as India, China and Brazil, consumers are growing more particular about what they expect from a dealer. They want proximity to their home as they are unwilling to travel very far to buy a car. In addition, they demand faster, higher-quality responses from dealers and will walk away if their needs are not met.
Increasingly, consumers are waiting until the final weeks before purchase to visit dealerships. While this reduces the opportunities to interact with customers face-to-face, it also means that those customers who visit the showroom are serious, not just curious.
Here's what companies need to do to better understand and respond to changing consumer vehicle buying behavior.