By June, as pandemic-induced business shutdowns began to lift across the U.S., fewer vehicle shoppers planned to delay their purchases than did a few months earlier at the height of the coronavirus outbreak, according to a new consumer study.
But even as some would-be buyers said they still plan to buy a vehicle this year, affordability remains a concern: Nearly half of consumers who vehicle listings company CarGurus surveyed in June said the pandemic has made them less confident they'll be able to afford a vehicle, and more of them said they're considering a used car instead of a new one.
The results, out this week, indicate the ways in which the coronavirus has affected consumers' vehicle purchase decisions. While fewer of them said they're planning to wait—69 percent said they had delayed a purchase as of June, compared with 79 percent in an earlier survey in April—that's still more than two-thirds of consumers CarGurus surveyed last month. And more shoppers said they intended to finance their purchase in June than before the pandemic.
"The data shows me that people do still have concerns about their safety, but that the way that dealers can handle that is to take specific precautions and make sure that shoppers are aware that they're taking those precautions," said Madison Gross, CarGurus' director of customer insights.
COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the country, with new hot spots emerging in states including Florida, Texas and California—some of the nation's biggest vehicle markets.
A Cox Automotive survey released the week of July 19 found that 70 percent of consumers are extremely or very concerned about the virus. More than 40 percent of consumers who plan to delay their purchase said it is a "scary" time to make a vehicle purchase.
Jonathan Smoke, Cox's chief economist, said in a video posted Tuesday that the dealership technology company's Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book shopping brands still are generating more leads than a year ago, but at a slower pace.
"We are seeing the market struggle to keep up the pace of recovery we enjoyed in May and June," Smoke said. "Inventory is becoming more of a problem in both the new and the used market, and we can't ignore the downward drift in consumer sentiment that's been happening across the country as we've seen widespread increases in the COVID-19 cases. But we can celebrate that we still have markets that are enjoying year-over-year increases in vehicle sales."
CarGurus says dealerships will have sales opportunities over the long term. Of those consumers who said they postponed buying a car, 70 percent are still researching vehicles, the data show. Just 2 percent of people who said they planned to buy a car in 2020 have delayed their purchase by more than a year or indefinitely. And the findings suggest car ownership will become more important to those who will use public transportation and ride-hailing services less.
"Ultimately, the data that I see shows that a lot of people want to buy a car and they really intend to follow through on those plans," Gross said. "Dealers really have an opportunity because the role of vehicles is shifting in our lives a bit, and I see the pendulum really swinging in the direction of car ownership."
CarGurus polled 779 shoppers in June, following an April survey of 722 vehicle shoppers.