COVID and Car Buying: Safety Is First

By Auto Marketing InSites Archives
Cover image for  article: COVID and Car Buying: Safety Is First

A new study from Volvo USA and The Harris Poll this month has good news for the brand. Some 59 percent of respondents list safety as their most important quality in choosing an automaker, while "showiness" ranks dead last, with 21 percent. Concern about safety went from 4.5 on a ten-point scale before COVID to 6.0 after it. Plus, 82 percent agreed that the word safety "has a broader definition to me now than it did six months ago."

For cars that are "boxy but good" and also perceived as the safest vehicles on the road, that's music to corporate ears. But it's also in line with known trends. It's interesting to point out that safety concerns cross age and generational lines -- in fact, Gen Z drivers are more likely to wear a mask while driving (59 percent) compared to drivers as a whole (46 percent).

"We wanted to see how consumer perceptions are changing as a result of the pandemic," said Thomas Schultz, a Volvo spokesperson. "We found that people are demonstrating an increased interest in safety as part of their buying preferences. And they're broadening their perception of safety -- not just passive systems that protect you in an accident, but also active air filtration, in-vehicle sanitation, and contact-less pickup and delivery."

Obviously, if an automaker could make cars that actively guard against the spread of COVID, the order books would fill. Nobody can provide that level of guaranteed protection, but Volvo's On Call app lets owners pre-condition the cabin air before they climb aboard. For people worried about someone in the car before them, the system blows fresh air into the passenger compartment and circulates it through the passenger system's compartment air filter. No, it's not a sure-fire virus killer, but it might increase peace of mind.

Along the same lines, via Volvo Valet dealers offer complimentary pickup and delivery for service calls. You get it back cleaned and ready to go. That kind of thing is hugely popular during COVID, and has been embraced by such brands as Lincoln. Volvo has also adopted a specialized nine-point vehicle sanitization and disinfection process around servicing, test drives and walk-arounds (pictured below.)

Even before COVID, consumers were showing a reluctance to visit dealerships for servicing, which influenced a broad move to upgrade waiting rooms. The Volvo Retail Experience is being used by dealers to transform 40 percent of the showroom into a "living room space" where people can feel comfortable.

Here's the inviting message:

Coffees percolate at the barista bar, and brass fittings -- hanging from a ceiling that matches the floor's natural wood -- illuminate a layout of contemporary furniture. Assorted cushions decorate sofas, magazines sit in a rack, and large rectangular glazing provides a "window" to a hive of activity. It could be a cozy living room or relaxed café environment, yet this is the future of Volvo showrooms.

Cozy is good, because people are looking for safe spaces, which they're finding in their homes and cars. That's been good for Volvo's business -- sales are good enough now, after the worst of the lockdowns, to propel company results for 2020 into positive territory, Schultz said.

Two thirds (65 percent) of under-40 car buyers say they have either bought or are considering buying a car because of COVID, the survey says. And half of those asked said they were planning to use less public transportation. Nearly half, 47 percent, also said they were cutting back on shared-ride services. More than half of new parents (55 percent) say they like using their car as an "alone zone."

This Volvo commercial from September, aimed at parents, ties into that:

A big percentage, 78 percent, say their car has been "a lifeline" during the pandemic, and 75 percent have used their car as "some form of escape." Personal cars are being used more than ever for safe adventure trips, childcare distraction and snack runs.

Other interesting poll findings: reliability (59 percent) and trustworthiness (57 percent) are important attributes in consumer perception of automakers. Innovation is ranked much lower, at 37 percent. And people are reporting less stressful commutes -- from 49 percent saying that in 2018, to just 29 percent now.

Get this: 77 percent say they are more comfortable speeding when fewer drivers are on the road. And 40 percent say it is "tempting" to drive fast and recklessly given the reduced traffic.

Photo at top: People want to feel safe, and that goes double for showroom visits. (Volvo photo)

Photo in article.:Volvo has a nine-point vehicle sanitization and disinfection process for test rides and service visits. (Volvo photo)

Photo in article: A fancy restaurant? No, a Volvo showroom. (Volvo photo)

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