Will Car Buying Change Forever?
Here in California, we’re still under a partial lockdown as I type this. Like many of you, I wonder when life will return to some sense of “normal”. I also wonder what will comprise this new “normal”, mainly in terms of the things I miss the most (spending time with friends, family, and loved ones), but also the more mundane. What will working at an office entail? Will many of us just continue to work remotely? When will I be able to play hockey for my local beer league without feeling like I should take a Purell shower afterwards? Well, to be fair, this was kind of true before the pandemic, but still. Will traditionally indoor restaurants maintain (or even prioritize) outdoor dining after COVID times (let alone survive this crisis)? What will become of brick-and-mortar shopping?
To that last question, what will new and used car shopping look like)? And what about selling used cars?
I might address the second question in a future post, once I put my 1990 Mazda Miata up for sale later in the year (really, truly, for sure). For now, though, I’ll focus on new car sales.
We’ve seen the 0% finance offers, but since March, carmakers have also pivoted their sales approach. Even for those whose “Shopping Tools” haven’t appreciably changed (Mazda, VW, and Subaru appear to fall in this category), websites either address customers’ concerns about COVID directly (Subaru) or emphasize online or “care-free” shopping experiences.
Others are offering a truly online car-shopping experience. Nissan recently added their Nissan@Home program (through participating dealers) which gives customers the option to configure a car, book a test drive, connect with salespeople online, complete financing, arrange for a trade-in, and have their new car delivered. It looks pretty comprehensive.
Some local dealers in my area have partnered with outfits such as IndiGO Direct, which enables all-online purchases of new and pre-owned cars through local Audi, Jaguar, Land Rover, Porsche, VW, and other dealers (including McLaren). IndiGO Direct, which also has locations in Southern California, Houston, and St. Louis, does appear to offer a truly touchless car-buying experience, including free delivery within 100 miles of each dealership. Services such as these have transmogrified buying anything from a Golf to a 720S Spider into an experience which feels more like upgrading my iPhone than anything else.
So have we reached a tipping point here? Will car buying change forever, as some have claimed? Time (and vaccines) will tell, but I’m inclined to answer yes to these questions. The pandemic has accelerated, for better and for worse, the trends already apparent in the retail industry. The days of brick-and-mortar shopping will not look the same as it did a year ago.
That said, the in-person experience will not disappear altogether anytime soon. Just last week, in partially locked-down California, a friend of mine leased a 2021 Acura TLX the old-fashioned way: by showing up at a dealership, test-driving, and signing papers (the TLX, which I had the pleasure of driving, is a great sedan). And a former restaurant colleague who now sells Mazdas in San Diego is doing brisk in-person business there (with masks and without accompanying customers on test-drives).
By the time I go shopping for a new (or CPO) car, I would hope the worst of COVID times will be behind us. But I do look forward to a buying experience that is more straightforward and less time-consuming, particularly around financing and paperwork. Whether mostly online or not, however, I will never buy a car without test-driving it first.
Have any of you purchased or leased a new car online? If so, how was your experience?
Erik JP Drobey lives in San Francisco. He chronicles some of his culinary and vehicular adventures on Instagram as @zjpd.
The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.