Jack R. Nerad | April 16, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic has not only turned each of our lives upside down, but it has also turned the global auto industry upside down. Factory closures have thrown thousands of people out of work while threatening the financial health of the world's carmakers. Lockdown and shelter-in-place regulations have made it much more difficult for auto dealers to operate the various phases of their businesses while preventing consumers from shopping for cars in the conventional way. But at the same time, the rapid response to the pandemic by many car manufacturers has created an unprecedented buying opportunity.
Carmakers and dealers alike are going to unheard of lengths to support their current customers, incentivize potential customers to buy, and provide new ways for consumers to participate in the car-shopping and car-buying process. From online shopping tools to virtual reality test drives to service pickup and delivery to vehicle subscription services, the auto industry is responding to this unexpected challenge in a wide variety of innovative ways.
After nearly a month of self-quarantining, business interruptions, and literal fear in leaving home, it is difficult to remember how hale and hearty the auto industry was as it roared into 2020. In 2019 the U.S. auto business recorded its fifth consecutive year of 17-million-plus new-car sales, and though many, including us at J.D. Power, predicted that 2020 might not be quite as strong, our experts were looking for 16.9-million new-car sales this year before the coronavirus loomed over the horizon.
The Shakespearean warning to Julius Caesar — "Beware the Ides of March" — came unnervingly true when American vehicle sales ran headlong into a stone wall in the middle of last month. Sales that were running ahead of expectations until that mid-March date suddenly fell to the ground as if they had been stabbed by daggers.
With typical American ingenuity, it didn't take the U.S. marketing teams of the manufacturers to leap into action to try to reverse or at least slow the trend. Ford, General Motors (GM), Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Hyundai are among the major car manufacturers who within days announced programs that include new-car purchase incentives, special leasing offers, new online retailing solutions, and financial assistance for current customers. In the following paragraphs you'll find the details on the auto industry's coronavirus response.
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