A New Year, a fresh start — that’s what we all are hoping for. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 impact will by all accounts linger well into 2021. We are already experiencing a post-Thanksgiving surge in infections, sure to be followed by another surge post-Christmas. Car shoppers, however, have exhibited muted alarm at the record number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in November and December. This according to the year-in-review Consumer Sentiment Survey conducted by Autolist.com.
The survey was launched in March at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States and has been ongoing since, measuring month-to-month both new- and used-car buyers’ attitudes and sentiments regarding the economy, the pandemic, and car purchasing. These are the folks who are already — or soon will be — pulling up to the car wash entrance.
Anxiety levels about the economy were already high in March: fully half of the survey respondents then reported being more anxious than they were the year before. That number shot up to 65 percent in April and peaked in July at 67 percent. From there, the percentage dropped steadily over the next three months until it reached 60 percent in October. Despite the surge in infections and deaths, the percentage of participants reporting increased anxiety levels moved up only slightly to 63 percent and 62 precent in November and December respectively.
Have shoppers simply become inured to the constant drumbeat of bad COVID-19 news or were they buoyed by the prospect of a vaccine?
The survey next asked participants whether COVID-19 was having a negative effect on their outlook on the economy. Not surprisingly, the numbers closely track those recorded in the anxiety question. Forty-eight percent responded with a “yes” in March, but that jumped to 60 percent in April and topped out at 64 percent in August. The yes responses dropped eight percentage points to 56 percent in September, the lowest level since March and one month after infections hit their summer peak at the end of July. Again, shoppers reacted mildly in the face of a resurgence in infection numbers late in the year with 57 percent in November saying COVID-19 was negatively affecting their outlook on the economy and 60 percent saying so in December.
The next question provided an intriguing look at the attachment we have to our cars. The survey asked if the COVID-19 crisis was affecting respondents’ decision to purchase a new or used vehicle. In March, 23 percent said it did. Now that’s a substantial number, but well short of the 48 percent who said COVID-19 was negatively affecting their outlook on the economy. Likewise, the disparity in the April numbers is striking: 38 percent versus 60 percent. Add to that the greater economic anxiety reported by 65 percent in April. Moreover, the percentage of respondents whose vehicle-buying decisions were affected by COVID-19 peaked at that 38 percent in April, declining steadily to 28 percent in October and November, and only ticking up slightly in December to 31 percent.
These numbers line up rather well with the results from Adtaxi’s second Coronavirus and Automotive consumer survey we reported on in this space in October. This survey found that while 70 percent of respondents lowered their car-buying budget as a result of COVID-19, they were still intent on purchasing.