APA surveys consumers who bought a new vehicle after the onset of COVID-19

October 6, 2020

Consumers who purchased a vehicle from a dealer after the onset of COVID-19 awarded car dealers a score of 8/10 for their personal health and safety while shopping. The APA surveyed members of the general public who had shopped or taken delivery of a new or used vehicle at a car dealership between March 18 and August 30, 2020. The survey, which the APA undertook for OMVIC, Ontario’s auto dealer regulator, looked at changes to car buyers’ behavior and their perceptions after the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. A total of 295 Ontario residents who visited a car dealership responded to the survey.

Respondents were generally comfortable shopping at dealerships with COVID-19 public health measures in place. The median comfort level of 8/10 shoppers awarded for their personal health and safety after the onset of the pandemic distancing measures and other restrictions measures up well compared to 10/10 the same shoppers awarded for shopping at dealerships before COVID-19.


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The survey identified a lot of variability in shopping behavior. Over half the respondents reported visiting just one or no dealership in person before taking delivery. Conversely, 20 % of shoppers visited three or more dealerships. Perhaps surprisingly, given their increased vulnerability to COVID-19, shoppers aged 65+ were more likely to have visited two or more dealerships (50%) than younger age groups (about 40%). Just 8% of shoppers completed the entire transaction without visiting a dealership.

Among used car buyers, fully 38% did not take a test drive. Among new vehicle shoppers it was 46%. A salesperson was present in the vehicle for only 16% of test drives. Old guidance about due diligence and prudent behavior when shopping for a used vehicle may need to be updated for an environment where buyers do not actually try the vehicle.

The findings indicate that customers are paying attention to the safety measures dealerships have implemented. Approximately a third of respondents made suggestions for dealerships related to COVID-19, such as more diligent wearing of masks, more discipline around social distancing, and solo test drives. Other suggestions included better communication before the in-person visit, keeping appointments on time, signing paperwork remotely rather than at a desk, wanting more information during vehicle delivery.

One in five respondents recommended changes that were not related to COVID-19, but reflect consumer concerns with vehicle retailing that pre-date COVID-19 (e.g. discounts not available, runaround from the dealer, mats charged for weren’t ordered, etc.). Shopping with the assistance of the APA’s car buying service is an effective way to address these issues. The fixed, no-haggle price, and referral to a reliable dealer mean that you can limit your visits to just one location per brand of vehicle.

For the full survey report, click here. [PDF]


Some customers were vigilant about the need to apply COVID-19 measures consistently; others appreciated the efforts dealerships are making. Here`s a sample of the comments from survey respondents:

"Make everyone wear a mask indoors and out. Cover both nose and chin at the same time. Don’t get close to me... Let me do the paperwork online or outside..."

"I think the dealers I visited really did their best under the circumstances"

"Mask, distance, and vehicle cleaning... maybe even a "fresh" pen"

"Dealers are having the same inconveniences that we all have. In that regard they are very empathetic so far. I think they are doing a great job trying to sell vehicles in these difficult times"

"I had to ask some dealers to wear a mask. Didn`t like that. Other things don`t relate to COVID - listen carefully to the question being asked, so you address the need being presented. Take responsibility for errors you make and fix them. Don`t tell us what rating to give you and that nothing less than a 10 will do. Try saying something like "It`s very important to me that I get rated as a 10; if there is any reason you feel you cannot give me that rating, please let me know what I can do to fix it.""

"Consider people`s financial situation during this pandemic and realize that money is tighter than usual and not to force products and services onto them (that they don`t need) so that the dealership can boost sales and bonuses can be given out to sales staff. Show some compassion to your fellow "human" at a time like this..."



driving.ca - Lorraine Sommerfeld
October 6, 2020. Lorraine Explains: COVID-19 complications from the car-seller`s side

COVID-19 and the associated lockdowns may have created changes for insurance companies as well as challenges in mechanical maintenance for car owners.

But what about for people buying cars, and those who sell them?

OMVIC, Ontario’s vehicle sales regulator, teamed up with the Automobile Protection Association (APA) to do a study on how dealerships are responding to the new world order, and how consumers are reacting to that response.

While most dealerships were totally shut down for about a month, as openings began it was evident almost everything had changed. Like most sectors, the auto industry took a profound hit as sales (and parts availability) plunged. In spite of this, sellers scrambled to adapt, and sales are recovering at an encouraging pace. Covering the period March 18 to August 30 of this year, the survey is a three-pronged approach to directly address all the main players: buyers, salespeople, and dealers.

Dealerships have stepped up to meet protocols surrounding health and safety, following guidelines that OMVIC has set forth based on both provincial and federal government recommendations. Sanitizing high-touch surfaces, adding plexiglass inserts where necessary, social distancing and masks have all led to 80 per cent of buyers surveyed saying they felt comfortable in their buying experience.
“It’s an impressive result when you stop to consider the complexity of an auto sale or lease transaction, and the need to adapt to highly varied shopper behavior ranging from consumers who conducted the whole transaction remotely (8 per cent) to those who visited three or more locations (20 per cent),” says APA president George Iny.

Franchised dealers scored higher than independents, which isn’t surprising when everyone is being tasked to find more resources in challenging times. Some 13 per cent of buyers wanted more buying options, saying they hurried their purchase because of safety concerns. Dealers pivoted quickly, and things like being able to sign a deal online (previously not allowed) were quickly put into play. Scheduled appointments for both car buying and maintenance have become the norm.

One finding was almost inevitable: fewer test drives are taking place. Roughly 46 per cent of new car buyers in this time frame made their purchase without taking a test drive, as did 38 per cent of people purchasing a used vehicle. Only 16 per cent of the latter camp had a salesperson along for the ride — previously almost unheard of. While this number has been declining for years, it’s still rather stunning. Making a purchase this big, that can’t be returned, and not taking it for at least a cursory spin?

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