The ‘Future of car sales’ is already today

Munich, July 2023

The 'Future of car sales' is already today

Munich, July 2023
A

review of four myths on the future of car sales based on experiences of xEV buyers in Europe’s leading EV market, Norway.

Over many years, there have been many myths about the future of automotive sales. Major trends like the introduction of new drivetrain technologies, rapidly changing customer expectations, a sheer unlimited choice of sources for information and the digitalization of the sales process have continuously been quoted as the key levers for a revolution in new car sales.

So are the days numbered when auto retailers invest in large glass palaces at the outskirt of major cities, presenting a new car offering that easily covers two football fields? Is haggling for the best price and comparing individual offers from multiple dealerships of the same brand a habit of the past? Will the physical test drive be replaced by some form of revolutionary digital experience in the buyers living room?

We believe the future of sales is already here. Most of the major trends mentioned earlier have evolved for some time, some faster than others. Most automotive brands have announced their strategies towards direct sales models and are amidst a staged rollout over the next few years. Not least because of the fear of losing control of prices to online tools and online comparison platforms offering full price transparency on the click of a button. Tesla showed the direct sales path with many (new) Chinese manufacturers following) to gain more control of the customer relationship and the ability to set actual transaction prices.

Berylls wanted to hear from customers how they experienced ‘future sales’ during their last car purchases. To find a sufficiently large number of them we had to go to Norway, the market with the highest BEV share – and with it the highest share of new brands. Based on their responses we have re-assessed four popular hypotheses. Myths or reality?

FOUR MYTHS ON THE FUTURE OF CAR SALES: HYPOTHESES

  1. The physical retailer is dead.
  2. Elegant city showrooms in prime locations are the secret sauce for sales success.
  3. New car buyers appreciate a multi-channel sales offering
  4. The new market entrants set the new benchmarks in customer experience and convenience in the sales process.

QUESTIONING THE MYTHS: WHAT DO THE BUYERS SAY?

1. The physical retailer is dead.
[Answer: NO]

Where did you first notice the vehicle that you later bought?
by chosen OEM and selected new entrants, in percent

According to the survey, buyers mention the dealer website as well as the physical dealership as the two most important places where they first become aware of a car. Print advertisements as well as TV- and Radio spots are rated weakest. In general, the importance of online and offline touch points in the awareness phase is balanced.

Where did you conduct research on your vehicle before purchasing it?
by chosen OEM and selected new entrants, in percent

In the dedicated search for information, the physical retailer remains the first source of information. The percentage of buyers choosing the retailer as a primary source of information is higher among the old brands compared to the new brands, 37% vs. 31%. However, in this context it is worth mentioning that most new brands do not have classic fully fledged dealerships with a large-scale offer of new cars. Instead, they present a selection of their product line-up in centrally located city showrooms.

Concluding, the widespread myth that the retailer will become irrelevant in the future, cannot be confirmed. The dealer is and remains a major lever for brand and product awareness as well as a primary source of information during the information phase before purchase.

2. Elegant city showrooms in prime locations are the secret sauce for sales success
[Answer: NO]

Where did you first notice the vehicle that you later bought?
by chosen OEM and selected new entrants, in percent

The survey shows, centrally located city showrooms have a comparably weak effect on brand and product awareness across brands. Only 6% of buyers mention the city showroom as the place where they first became aware of a certain car. Nio is the exception to the rule: Nio’s city showroom, the so called “Nio House” does have a higher rating than all other rating factors across brands in terms of brand awareness (13%) as well as source of information (40%). Public billboards, print media and tv/ radio spots are rated equally weak (each 6%). The physical dealership, however, is way ahead of the city showroom when measuring brand awareness (dealer 12% vs. city showroom 6%).

When asked if the respective channels where helpful with regards to the purchasing decision, the city showrooms obtained weak ratings only. Only 62% of buyers rate the city showrooms as relevant. In general, buyers of new brands prefer online touch points over offline touchpoints whereas the opposite is true for buyers of old brands (measuring helpfulness). The physical dealership is among the top five channels rated along helpfulness with nearly no difference between new and old brands (new 69% vs. old 70%).

Concluding, no tendency can be found, whether city showroom in prime locations will in the future replace the large-scale dealerships. Today, city showrooms have a comparably weak effect on brand and product awareness across brands and are on average rated lower than the dealership as source of information. The exception to the rule is Nio; the “Nio House” obtains above average ratings.

3. New car buyers appreciate a multi-channel sales offering
[Answer: YES]

Online / Offline transitions along purchasing process
channel switches yes / no

Most buyers leverage multiple channels in different steps of the purchasing process. 68% of buyers chose to book a test drive online before executing the test drive at a local dealership. Even 72% of buyers chose to start a new car configuration online and finalize it together with a sales advisor at the dealership   The transitions queried are used more by buyers of “new” brands e.g. the transition test drive booked online and conducted stationary is used by 81% of buyers of new brands whereas only 63% of buyers of old brands use online booking of a test drive followed by an on-site test drive. The difference between new and old brand is equally significant in the transition online to offline for finalizing the new car configuration (new 74% vs. old 51%).

Concluding, independent of customer group or brand, offering an online as well as offline channel for information search and configuration is indispensable. Even though buyers of new brands perform more process steps online, a complete waiver of the physical offer appears not feasible. The seamless interface between online and offline is and will remain essential.

4. The new market entrants set the new benchmarks in customer experience and convenience in the sales process.
[Answer: NO]

Efficiency of customer transitions between online and offline sales channels
by transition quality, in percent

During the purchasing process, transitions between the online- and offline channel are more common among new brands and are less prone to error. Still, the processes appear far from perfect. Dealers could instantly allocate a reserved appointment to a name in the dealership for 89% of buyers of new brands, whereas this was only possible for 77% of buyers of old brands. For the remaining 10% of new brand buyers however, no appointment could be allocated at all. The instant loading of a configuration prepared online was easily possible with a configuration code for 91% of buyers for both buyer types, old and new brands.

How do you rate your purchasing experience relative to previous purchases?
by chosen OEM, in percent¹

When looking at the overall quality of the purchasing experience, buyers of new brands rate the quality higher compared to prior car purchases. Nio sets the absolute benchmark with 100% of buyers stating that their purchase experience was clearly better or slightly better compared to 56% for the same rating among old brands. So what are the levers behind the improved buying experience? The observed value for money as well as the overall satisfaction are significantly higher for buyers of products from new entrant. Also the vehicle ordering process were rated better.

Concluding, the purchasing processes of new market entrants are on average of higher quality than those of established, old brands. However, the processes are far from perfect. In the interplay between online and offline buyers mention hick-ups, not surprisingly in line with old brands.

CONCLUSION

The future of car sales is now. The evolution of the car buying process is running at full speed. A review of four myths on the future of car sales along experiences from xEV buyers in Norway has yields interesting insights. Only one hypothesis out of four could be verified.

Therefore, what learning can be drawn for the future sales strategies of automotive OEMs?

  1. A good balance of all channels is a recipe for success.
  • An extensive digital offering has become a hygiene factor for all brands.
  • But physical interaction with retailers remains really important for customer satisfaction.
  1. Convenience is key: Easy switches between channels must be possible.
  • The IT backend must be stable. Interfaces between channels with one customer ID must function well, e.g. saving configurations on one device, opening on another.
  • The customer front-end must be intuitive and appealing.
  • Staff in the stores and ‘online’ must be carefully trained to make the multi-channel experience work.
  1. A continuous review of the sales network and formats is required.
  • City showrooms are an effective channel to create brand awareness for new market entrants – their cost effectiveness is a different question; established OEMs, however, must continue to leverage their existing physical footprint and can plan investments wisely.
  1. Marketing spending on TV & radio lose importance.
  • Changing importance of channels for product information demand a reallocation of marketing spending. Social Media continue to steal importance from Radio & TV spots.
Authors
Arthur Kipferler

Partner & MD UK

Hongtao Wei

Associate Partner

Nils Garrelfs

Project Manager

Samuel Schramm

Consultant

Arthur Kipferler

Arthur Kipferler (1963) started his career in 1989 at the Boston Consulting Group, where he consulted for 13 years in the automotive industry. After consulting, Arthur Kipferler held senior management positions at Toyota in Europe and the U.S. From 2013 to 2014, he was global head of the BMW Group’s Future Retail program. Subsequently, he had leading roles in strategy, corporate planning and transformation management at Jaguar Land Rover in Coventry, UK. Arthur Kipferler complements the expertise of the Berylls partner team in the fields of market & customer, technologies, sales, and digitalization, as well as in the development and implementation of corporate, product, and regional strategies.

Mechanical engineering, production engineering, at the Technical University of Munich (TUM); MBA in Strategy, Marketing and Organizational Behavior at INSEAD Business School, France.

Hongtao Wei

Hongtao Wei (1988), Associate Partner, joined Berylls Strategy Advisors in 2015, an international strategy consultancy specializing in the automotive industry, where he focuses on all issues related to the Chinese automotive market. In addition to Western manufacturers in China, his clients also include Chinese OEMs, investors, provincial governments, and state-owned enterprises.

He has profound expert knowledge in the areas of sales and aftersales. His other areas of expertise include digitalization, connectivity, and turnaround management.

He studied Sinology, Economics and Statistics at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich.