Industry analysis: post-lockdown car sales boost looking unlikely

As a stark example of this, of the 3000 vehicles Vertu has been selling a week, only around 70 are ‘pure’ online sales, where the customer researches the car, organises the part-exchange, completes the finance and has the car delivered without ever talking to a member of staff.

That said, when dealerships do open, some human contact will be reduced permanently. “Before the last lockdown, we had real success with unaccompanied test drives,” said Forrester. “Customers liked it and the sales staff preferred it, because it freed them up to be more productive as they weren’t sitting in the back of a car.”

Others confirm this blended approach. Vauxhall managing director Paul Willcox said: “It’s likely we’ll see a hybrid approach to retailing in the future, with far more done online, but we believe, on the whole, that people want to deal with people and they also want to see, touch and test drive the vehicles, so our retailer network will continue to have a very valuable role in the future.”

As for what consumers are buying, in terms of used vehicles Forrester agreed with a recent study by Cap HPI that picked up on strong demand for sports cars and convertibles, with values rising by 7% in the past year, compared with a 3% drop the 12 months before that. “Used car values are up across the board,” he said. “But there’s strong demand for these types of cars in particular because they [buyers] want a bit of fun. Land Rover is doing really well for the same reason, with customers keen on the lifestyle angle and ready to break the tedium of lockdown.”

In the new car sector, the pandemic has accelerated the move towards electrification, even without the added impetus of the 2030 deadline for the ban of combustion-engined vehicles. With fewer miles travelled, greater choice and an ever-improving charging infrastructure, buyers are increasingly likely to make the switch. According to the SMMT’s figures for February 2021, while overall new car sales were down by 35.3% year on year, registrations of EVs rose by 40.2% and PHEVs by 52.1% for a 13% market share.

Of course, this expectation of gradually increasing sales across the board needs stock to be available. “Used stock is fine,” said Forrester. “New car sales won’t be the problem, either, but new car supply is potentially a bigger issue. You’ve got the potential for further lockdowns in Europe, plus potential Covid delays in the factories and supply chains. All this means new car supply could be tight.”

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