Ford Australia backs dealerships as COVID-19 moves sales online

As car dealerships across the country move to online and contactless sales models to prioritise employee and customer health and safety during COVID-19, the automotive industry remains divided over how the preferred sales model will look once the pandemic is over.

Online sales have threatened to overtake traditional face-to-face sales as the preferred sales model for cars for a while now, following a similar trend occurring across many sales and retail industries.

And with COVID-19 threatening dealerships around the world, Ford Motor Company’s US sales chief Mark Laneve believes online sales will soon become a permanent fixture in the automotive industry.

In an interview with Reuters, Laneve said many dealerships had been experimenting with online sales and delivery for some time now and the COVID-19 outbreak was the perfect opportunity to fast track the digital move.

“Good dealers have been doing remote delivery for the last 20 years, but it was maybe one a week. Now they’re doing almost every delivery that way,” said Laneve.

“[COVID-19] has just turbo-charged the adoption of those [online] processes by both customers and the dealers. To be honest, I think a big chunk of that stays with us even when we’re through the crisis.”

However, Ford Australia has taken their own differing stance on the matter, backing dealerships to thrive once social distancing restrictions are lifted, with one spokesperson telling CarAdvice some elements of the car buying process simply can’t be replicated online.

“While customers carry out the majority of their research into a new vehicle purchase well before stepping into a showroom, the final decision still isn’t made until they (test drive) the vehicle,” said one spokesperson.

“We are increasingly seeing that customers are prepared to transact online. The distinction for Ford is that we don’t intend to sell directly to the consumer.”

In support of this view, The Australian Automotive Dealers Association (AADA) also believes dealerships will remain an important part of the car buying process for some time yet.

“Dealers are making use of the online channel to overcome some of the challenges posed by COVID-19,” said AADA.

“This experience may well lead to a greater proportion of sales being completed online once restrictions are lifted. However, buying a car is different to most consumer goods and research suggests the majority of consumers still want to conduct test drives and complete the transaction in the dealership.

“The proportion of consumers willing to buy exclusively online may increase, but for now [the AADA] believes the dealership is an important part of the car buying process.”

While Ford Australia expects things to largely return to normal following the pandemic, they are looking at adopting some online methods to make the experience easier for consumers.

“We are increasingly seeing that customers are prepared to transact online,” said the spokesperson from Ford.

“We are working to develop a consistent online experience across our dealer stores, so that a customer would shop as they do today by selecting their preferred dealer, then their vehicle, before completing the transaction online supported by virtual technology.”

Source: CarAdvice | Ford Australia says car sales won’t move solely online after COVID-19

27 April 2020