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File photo used for representational purpose. (Bloomberg)
File photo used for representational purpose. (Bloomberg)

Online buzz reveals purchase intent for cars intact, digitization holds key

  • July sales in PV segment showed solid signs of a recovery even as almost every OEM has also bolstered its digital presence.
  • The facility to check specifications online, speak to sales representatives through video conferencing and getting test drives at home have meant digital means are catching on.

Car sales in India are only now returning to a semblance of normalcy after weeks of lockdown starting around end of March had resulted in closed production, shut dealerships and muted demand. And even though the automotive industry here continues to feel the aftereffects of the lockdown which was put to check the spread of Covid-19, the absolute worst may be behind and the way forward being lit by a move towards digitization of sales and work flows.

Data from Google Trends between February and July point out that the purchase intent for cars among Indians remains intact even if actual sales saw massive decline in the weeks of April and May, recovering slightly in June. A blog post prepared by Nikhil Bansal, Head of Industry (Automotive) at Google India, highlights that search interest for autos and vehicles have been on an upswing once again since June. He writes that customers now expect 'a seamless online experience with a faster turnaround to their queries.' The same blog post also refers to an India Auto Pulse report which finds that 45% of consumers have plans to buy a new car sooner, despite some markets reporting a recession.

That prospective customers are, however, rather reluctant to step out to step in a showroom is a possibility almost every car maker addresses with speed by either launching or strengthening digital sales platforms. Even workshops were moved to digital platforms with many OEMs now offering facilities to book a service using phones and PCs, and having cars picked up and delivered from and at home. An Auto Gearshift report reveals that the average number of visits to dealerships in India fell by 50% over the last three years - from 2016 to 2019. This would have only fallen even more sharply in 2020.

But OEMs are seeing it more as an opportunity to adapt than as a challenge. Speaking to HTAuto.com previously, Shashank Srivastava - Executive Director of Sales and Marketing at Maruti Suzuki - had highlighted how a 'phygital' experience is a, rather the, way forward. (Full report here)

Hyundai has also repeatedly reported rising traction on its end-to-end online platform with the interest in the new Creta showing the way. (Full report here)

Even luxury car makers like Audi and Mercedes have promised a robust and comprehensive online platform for existing and prospective customers while makers of two-wheelers have also bucked the trend.

While it won't be fair to compare online purchases to purchases made at dealerships yet, the signs are clearly there for the taking. Customers increasingly want dealerships to come to them rather than the vice-versa scenario and many feel that the concept of digital purchases would catch up rapidly in the coming times.

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