With just more than a week remaining in 2016, Honda is assured of having the #1 and #2 best-selling cars, the #1 SUV and #1 minivan in America with individual car buyers, the company announced today. American Honda, including the Honda and Acura brands, is the fastest growing automaker1 in the U.S. in retail sales, according to data from Automotive News.
Chinese brands are the biggest winners in the entry-level SUV segment (priced between 50,000 renminbi and 100,000 renminbi, equivalent to approximately $7,650 and $15,300 as of this writing), where they faced limited competition from international players. They captured an 89 percent share of this lower-price-tier market. Dominating this segment helped Chinese local brands increase their combined total market share, not including joint-venture brands, in the SUV market from 27 percent in 2012 to 48 percent in 2016.
Premium is on the rise. Like in many other consumer categories in China, the move upscale to premium products is an ongoing trend in the car market. Our survey shows that 55 percent of respondents who replaced or complemented their existing cars in 2016 chose more expensive new ones. Also, although we found that around half of our respondents no longer think of cars as status symbols, young people and those who bought expensive cars (vehicles costing over 400,000 renminbi) are still more likely to consider cars status symbols than the average consumer.
To avoid fierce price wars in this lower-price market segment, players are launching more premium SUVs (or, in the case of Great Wall, an entirely new, more premium brand) to improve margins. However, it remains too early to tell whether such actions will convince car buyers to buy these brands in a segment filled with established international brands.
From a consumer-segment perspective, younger (under 34 years old), more affluent consumers exhibit the most loyalty, with 18 percent choosing to repurchase the same brand, compared with 11 percent for other segments. Whatever the reason, mainstream brands must rethink their strategies for capturing the imagination of potential buyers. Conversely, it opens the door for ambitious players with growth plans.
Consumer expectations continue to rise regarding the retail experience. There are fewer first-time buyers, and customers are increasingly digitally savvy in all aspects of their lives. Although consumers say they visit authorized car dealers (also known as 4S stores, for sales, spare parts, service, and survey) multiple times before buying a car, only 49 percent express satisfaction with this experience. The main sticking points include low information transparency (for example, on options, features, and prices), time-consuming purchases and other processes, long travel times to the closest 4S store, and relatively low-tech and outdated service offerings.
Our survey reveals an urgency to act now as far as integrating online and offline elements of the retail experience. This holds true for both brands and 4S dealers seeking to avoid losing direct contact with the customer or even losing sales. For example, increasing numbers of car buyers are making purchases online. In 2016, customers purchased 5 percent of vehicles online, compared with 1 percent in 2014 (one caveat: in this case, online still means that customers close deals for these vehicles via nearby 4S stores). The shift to online could accelerate strongly, however, since buyers in the 18-to-24-year-old age range are almost twice as likely to purchase online as older consumers. On the supply side, digital players are exploring potential roles in the industry. For example, auto vertical Autohome has already organized two virtual car shows in 2017 collaborating with around 30 brands.
Residents of tier-one and tier-two cities are five times as likely to shop at and use online financial companies as other car buyers. The reasons consumers choose these sources include their (perceived) higher acceptance rates, lower loan costs, and more flexible and attractive loan terms. Players are attempting to differentiate themselves by moving beyond competing on price alone. For example, WeBank and Xin.com partnered to provide financing for used-car buyers, with novel programs such as guaranteed returns in 15 days, financing approval in an hour, and the ability to select custom payment schemes. Such schemes can include no payments for the first two years, a low annual percentage rate, or a car trade-in option after two years.
Although online financing is becoming more attractive, 97 percent of financing buyers still choose traditional providers. Our survey indicates that this is simply due to the perceived convenience of offline financing and the preference among buyers to finance from the dealer from which they bought the car. The rise in online sales mentioned earlier could, however, erode this advantage.
China is the largest market for new energy vehicles (NEVs) in the world now. However, demand is still highly concentrated and regulatory driven. The cities in China with license-plate restrictions for cars powered by internal combustion engines (ICE) account for about 60 percent of national NEV sales (and only about 10 to 15 percent of ICE sales). Although we expected to see interest in purchasing a NEV increase, our results show that it remained flat, with about one out of five car buyers expressing interest.
Although infrastructure is less of a concern for new buyers than in the past, 23 percent of current EV owners would still like to see more charging stations. About one-third of EV owners lack their own charging infrastructure, with 38 percent of them stating that their residences do not allow the installation of charging stations. Building a public charging network could be a solution for this, since 67 percent of people would be interested in a subscription-based charging service, and 59 percent of people would be interested in a pay-as-you-go charging service.
Although self-driving cars are not available in the market yet, we also tested consumer thinking around autonomous driving. Overall, consumers are excited about autonomous vehicles and have faith in them. More than 60 percent of survey respondents believe autonomous cars will transport families in the future, compared with 43 percent in the United States and 31 percent in Germany. Our survey shows that 61 percent expect that car OEMs will have the best autonomous-driving technology, with two-thirds of these respondents preferring foreign OEMs. Surprisingly, only 12 percent expect technology players such as Baidu, Google and Tencent to develop the leading technology. This lead nearly matches the 38 percent of ICE car buyers who believe foreign OEMs are more reliable than local ones, and likely reflects the same thinking. However, when it comes to operating an autonomous fleet, many respondents prefer parties outside the traditional automotive industry. One-third of respondents say car OEMs enjoy the best positioning, while 26 percent and 15 percent, respectively, prefer the government or new mobility players.
About the StudyThe 2016 Car Buyer Journey, commissioned by Cox Automotive through IHS Automotive, was conducted to gain an understanding of consumer car-shopping behavior and perception of the dealer experience. A total of 2,131 car buyers (1,283 New and 848 Used) who purchased a vehicle within the 3 months between March and May of 2015 completed a survey. Oversampling was done among 18- to 24-year-olds, Hispanics and Luxury buyers for analyses of these groups with greater confidence.
About Cox AutomotiveCox Automotive Inc. is transforming the way the world buys, sells and owns cars with industry-leading digital marketing, software, financial, wholesale and e-commerce solutions for consumers, dealers, manufacturers and the overall automotive ecosystem worldwide. Committed to open choice and dedicated to strong partnerships, the Cox Automotive family includes Autotrader, Dealertrack, Kelley Blue Book, Manheim, NextGear Capital, vAuto, Xtime and a host of other brands. The global company has nearly 30,000 team members in more than 200 locations and is partner to more than 40,000 auto dealers, as well as most major automobile manufacturers, while engaging U.S. consumer car buyers with the most recognized media brands in the industry. Cox Automotive is a subsidiary of Cox Enterprises, Inc., an Atlanta-based company with revenues of $18 billion and approximately 55,000 employees. Cox Enterprises' other major operating subsidiaries include Cox Communications and Cox Media Group. For more information about Cox Automotive, visit www.coxautoinc.com.
As sales have rebounded, some analysts have noticed a shift in the age composition of new light vehicle buyers. Indeed, a number of recent studies and press articles have documented a dramatic decline in young adults' willingness to own vehicles, particularly in the years since the 2007-09 recession. For example, Fortune recently cited the decline in the fraction of new vehicles purchased by young adults--defined as 18 to 34 year olds--as evidence that financial constraints for that age group had increased and their interest in driving had decreased.1 As quoted in the article, young adults \"just don't think driving is cool--or even necessary--anymore.\" Similar stories abound and often attribute these changes to the rising popularity of social media, which reduces the need to travel, and alternative means of transportation, such as ride-sharing, public transportation, and biking, which reduce the need of owning a vehicle.2
Much of this analysis was published shortly after the 2008 financial crisis and the 2007-09 recession, when many of the so-called millennial generation were entering adulthood. Because the financial crisis had severe and lingering effects on many household decisions, distinguishing its effects on vehicle purchases from the effects of cultural and technological changes can be quite difficult. For example, The Atlantic notes that while today's younger buyers do have some unique characteristics, they have begun looking increasingly like their older cohorts as their employment and income prospects have improved.3 59ce067264