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COVID car rush: Thousands of cars may have been purchased this year because of coronavirus, as habits shift

The impact of COVID-19 on buying habits in the UK may have prompted thousands of car sales in 2020, according to a new study by CarGurus.

The study published by CarGurus, titled COVID-19 Sentiment: How the Pandemic Impacted Automotive Sentiment in 2020, found that nearly a quarter of Brits who bought a car this year were not actually planning to purchase a car before the pandemic in March1.

While overall car sales are down year-on-year in 20202, CarGurus, the UK’s fastest growing automotive shopping site3, revealed that many of the 6.5 million new and used car sales4 this year may not have been planned before March, and a shift in buying habits and perception of public transport and ridesharing services as a result of the pandemic could be the reason why.

More than a third (36%) of ridesharing users and four in 10 public transport users say they expect to decrease or stop using these services, suggesting that many will need to turn to cars as a more COVID-secure way to get around.

In fact, among those who did buy during the pandemic, nearly half said they had an immediate need (44%) while the desire to have a vehicle for personal travel, leisure, hobbies, or projects was another top motivator (32%).

To add to this, a growing openness to online buying journeys may have supported the thousands of car sales under COVID-19 restrictions, as two thirds of consumers are now open to taking their purchase online, while many actually prefer online price negotiation (56%) and online financing (35%).

With more than nine in 10 car buyers who planned to buy this year before the pandemic having already purchased a car, or still planning to before the end of the year, there are more positive signs for the car industry shortly after thousands of dealerships reopened their doors last week.

Car buyers who still delayed their purchase this year said uncertainty around their personal financial situation was the main reason (50%), closely followed by uncertainty about the general economic situation (45%), but with less uncertainty predicted in 2021, many buyers could soon be heading back into the market.

Madison Gross, Director of Customer Insights at CarGurus, commented: “With the challenges of 2020, it’s natural that we are seeing a change in behaviour among consumers, not only in their approach to buying, but also in their perception of public transport and ridesharing services, which can clearly fuel a demand.

“What is really encouraging is that the automotive industry is getting more agile in its response to these changes. New facilities including contactless services and online buying journeys, which clearly resonate with consumers, are being championed by retailers across the UK, and hopefully this continues well into 2021 and beyond.”

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