OPINION | Car buying will never be the same again


Unless you work in essential services, you're not driving much at the moment. A short journey to get the necessary food items is the most your vehicle currently does. 

In time, lockdown regulations will ease, and traffic will increase.

South Africans will accumulate the mileages on their cars, and current vehicles will be traded for new ones.

But one aspect that Covid-19 might change forever is how we buy cars. 

Public and retail spaces will remain environments best avoided for some time after the lockdown regulations ease.

There is no question that a lingering paranoia and anxiety will prevent people from comfortably entering commercial spaces to browse, interact or transact. 

car dealer

Image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Grand dealerships to become dinosaurs 

For the last two decades, South Africans have become accustomed to grandiose automotive dealerships. Imposing architectural structures with boutique interior designs and the very best finishes. 

The corporate logic has been that dealerships should present an aspiration lifestyle and experience for customers. Most people would prefer doing something else on a Saturday, instead of entering dealerships to find a new car. Still, this issue has always been ignored by the automotive industry as self-aggrandising real estate developments surged. 

After Covid-19, the truth will become self-evident. Customers are going to favour being home more where they feel safe and less at risk of unpredictable, viral exposure of any kind. Those palatial car dealerships are going be places that even wealthy South Africans don’t wish to visit anymore. 

The leather seat material samples? The kids play area? The coffee and biscuits? Nobody is going to want to expose themselves to that in a car dealership anymore. Any touch surface will be considered contaminated. 

Tripping the industry in digitisation 

No single event in history has driven the adaption to digital solutions, like Covid-19. Since the lockdown, people have been experimenting and discovering digital solutions to problems by the day. And there is no possibility that the car-buying experience is going to avoid being digitally altered too. 

During the lockdown, you can’t buy a car in South Africa. Automotive dealerships are classed as non-essential, and although they will field requests and even process your new vehicle financing online, you’ll only be able to take physical delivery when the lockdown lifts. 

READ: This is what our roads could look like in 2050

The disruption in trade has been seismic. Huge salary and real estate fixed costs and dead capital on the showroom floor. To survive and eventually thrive again, dealerships must entice customers with the slickest digital user experience for new car buying. 

Do you think people are going to be keen to test drive a car that many others have sat and breathed in? Exactly. Incredibly original and innovative solutions will have to be found to recreate the customer product experience in a way that is on-trend with a post-Covid-19 world. Traditional test drives and showroom sit-in experiences will never be the same after Covid-19. 

A new virtual space

The current global health crisis has started the journey towards dealerships as mere fulfilment centres for your digital car buying experience. They can begin removing mood lighting, coffee machines and boutique furniture in those waiting areas. And buy better diagnostic equipment to provide quicker servicing turnarounds - that is where the future value offering will be. 

Covid-19 is punishing the automotive industry in terms of supply chain and production disruptions. But the demand for new vehicles will return and supply equilibrium attained. The brands that do well in this recovery will be the ones who are more digitally aware. 

What might never be the same again, is the role and status of a premium automotive dealership, with its lavish fittings. The safest place for wealthy buyers to transact is online. Investec has proven this with their private banking in South Africa - catering to high-net-worth individuals and without any physical branches. 

The car dealership of the future will become fulfilment and service centres, two crucial functions that won’t ever be replaced digitally. A vast opportunity exists for logistics companies with special hygiene clearance, to do the final vehicle deliveries and customer handovers. 

Covid-19 has been the reckoning for traditional Saturday morning car shopping, by spending time visiting multiple showrooms - and sipping bad coffee in all of them. 

Disclaimer: Wheels24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of contributors/columnists published on Wheels24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24 or Wheels24. 

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