Consumers want to get off the oil wagon

Written by Alokananda Chakraborty | Updated: Nov 14 2009, 06:09am hrs
While the top four factors remain reliability, safety, fuel economy and price, environmental factors are becoming a key driver of car purchase decision for consumers across the globe. Increasing focus on environmental issues permeates a Capgemini study, Cars Online 09/10, an in-depth report on the global automotive industry.

In India, 32% of the respondents indicated environmental impact as a driver; 90% of Brazilian respondents claimed a strong understanding of green vehicles; and 32% of the respondents in China said this was a primary reason for green vehicle decisions. Feedback from consumers included the hope that there will soon be 100% clean fuel, no emissions and that the automotive industry would get off the oil wagon. However, findings also show that consumers would be reluctant and, in some cases, unwilling to pay a premium of more than 10% extra for fuel efficient or alternative fuel vehicles.

The growing environment consciousness is all pervasive, with 31% of consumers in Western Europe pointing to this as the key reason to own or buy a fuel-efficient or alternative-fuel car, up from just 22% the year before.

Little wonder, green vehicle ownership continues its upward trend: 41% own a fuel-efficient or alternative-fuel vehicle, up from 36% the year before, and 30% plan to buy one. Fuel economy and environmental impact are the primary reasons.

Capgeminis Cars Online, an annual study, explores retail trends in the automotive industry, focusing on consumer buying behaviour, environmental issues, web use, lead management and customer loyalty. For the 09/10 study, more than 3,100 consumers were surveyed in eight countries: Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Russia, the United Kingdom and the US.

Another key finding of the study is the growing use of the internet as a research tool. Almost 90% of consumers today use the internet to research vehicles. Nearly 40% would like to buy a car over the internet, and half would purchase parts and accessories online, the main drivers being price discounts and dissatisfaction with the dealer.

Mind you, while consumers are less willing to buy a used car sight unseen, nearly 40% would purchase a new car through a completely online transaction if this capability existed, suggesting the role of the dealership is likely to change significantly in the next few years as this facility becomes available.

Again, by the time a consumer visits the showroom, they will already have done a degree of research online and consequently it may be too late to influence the vehicle purchase decision. So all you car manufacturers, who are still sitting on the fence trying to decide if large scale spending on online brandbuilding is worth the effort and the moolah in times of a credit crunch, think again!

Search engines have jumped up to the third spot in the research stage, from seventh place last year, with respondents continuing to state they want a full range of product information and base pricing from manufacturer and dealer sites above everything else. In mature markets, cost calculators and comparators were important, while developing countries looked for guidance and advice over the web and to communicate with their dealer or car company online for problem solving and buying accessories. Blogs and forums play a pivotal role with 57% of respondents less likely to buy a particular make or buy from a particular dealer if they found negative comments on such sites.

Customer loyalty remains vital with 68% of the respondents likely to purchase the same make/brand again as their current vehicle, up from 61% last year. In addition, 63% would purchase from the same dealer where they bought their current car. The report highlights changes in consumer buying behaviour at a time when the industry has been seriously hamstrung by the economic climate .

During what has been a difficult year, the automotive industry has, understandably, opted for short-term measures such as cost-cutting and cash preservation, said Nick Gill, Capgemini automotive sector leader. Our study shows that they should now be considering how to address the compressing buying cycle. Aftersales and servicing in particular were highlighted as missed opportunities, given that less than half of in-market customers return to the dealer where they purchased their car to have it serviced.

The early signs of convergence between the Bric (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and the mature countries also indicate that the gap in factors impacting vehicle buying decisions is narrowing. Given all this, the successful automotive companies will be those that focus on longer-term prosperity with an emphasis on future differentiation and, above all, keep their ears to the ground.