How car buying and transportation is changing amid COVID-19

Updated Aug 27, 2021

The automotive and mobility industries have certainly been among the hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the picture is getting better. Car dealerships are getting busier, and many are eagerly seeking more inventory to sell. Public mobility is rising steadily, although not reaching pre-COVID-19 levels. The use of shared commuting services and public transportation is increasing dramatically, while areas where many commuters and their employers accept the practical aspects of working from home are recovering more slowly.

Now, with economies returning to some semblance of OEMs, auto dealers and government officials, they need to know how long a full recovery might take and what the “next normal” might look like.

To help answer such questions, we continue to conduct regular surveys of consumers in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and China about their mobility behaviors and their car purchase and service plans. Our survey looks at both current consumer sentiment and expected future behavior as economies find the next normal.

Here we summarize our findings from the seventh wave of the McKinsey Global COVID-19 Automotive and Mobility Consumer Survey, conducted June 1-4, 2021.

Car purchase and maintenance

Globally, consumers’ intent to buy cars is approaching pre-COVID-19 levels, driven by positive prospects in the United States and China:

  • Intent to purchase new and used vehicles over the next 12 months has returned to approximately pre-COVID-19 levels (94% new cars vs. pre-COVID-19 levels and 7% higher through September 2020; 97% used cars vs. pre-COVID levels). COVID-19, up 1% compared to September 2020).
  • There are significant increases in the desire to purchase electric vehicles, particularly in Europe and China, driven by government incentives and increased awareness of sustainability.
  • Potential buyers are less inclined to interact with sellers at car dealerships. This decline in preference is waning across all regions and age groups – especially for consumers aged 55 to 70, who are now considering online buying as a convenient alternative to visiting merchants.
  • Interest in buying cars online remains steady at 59% globally with regional variation.
  • The prospects for after-sales services are improving. In the past few months, more customers have been doing maintenance and repairs rather than waiting. Next month shows a big uptake in net intent.

Mobility

  • About 51% of global respondents still intend to travel less than before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, mobility is increasing gradually and at different rates, with the fastest recovery in the United States.
  • Regular use of public transportation has rebounded significantly compared to late 2020. Shared modes of transportation (especially micro-mobility services) are now above pre-COVID-19 levels.
  • Public transportation and shared transportation are again more or less safe with regard to COVID-19 infection.
  • The frequency of hopping flights recovering at different rates. Across the world, expectations vary about mobility patterns and workplace scenarios in the next normal.
  • Respondents largely prefer greener mobility infrastructure. Nearly half (49%) indicate that current green initiatives should be amplified and accelerated.

This article will be continuously updated.

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