Consumer confidence around buying a car is up more than threefold compared with the first lockdown, despite the majority of the UK now under lockdown once more and showrooms again closed to physical sales, according to What Car’s latest research.

What Car’s study of 2939 in-market buyers, carried out last weekend, revealed that 20.4% are looking to buy a vehicle in the next four weeks, while 24.6% are set to purchase a car within one to three months’ time.

This compares very favourably with the first lockdown last March, when just 3.5% were looking to buy within four weeks, and 8% between one and three months. This data proved “painfully accurate”, says What Car? as sales were down by 97.3% in April.

Unlike the first lockdown, consumer confidence is significantly higher. Encouragingly, 54.0% of in-market buyers said they were NOT looking to postpone their purchase until lockdown restrictions are lifted, but will buy regardless of showroom closures.

Online buying boosts consumer confidence in the market

One of the key drivers of sales and consumer confidence has been the growing investment made in online selling platforms. In What Car’s October market research, 35.2% of buyers said they would be comfortable buying their next car online. Today, that number has risen to 42.9%. Significantly, nine out of 10 buyers also said they would be comfortable picking up their new model via a ‘Click & Collect’ type service – another novelty the industry is fast pursuing at a time when showroom doors must remain closed.

Web traffic shows buyers researching

A final barometer indicating encouraging trends is What Car’s own online traffic.

“It was hard to know what to expect this year, especially with the negative news and increased social restrictions announced in the run up to Christmas, but come Boxing Day the surge was there again: between then and lockdown being announced, user numbers across the site surged 7.5% up against our previously record-breaking year-on-year figures”, said Rachael Prasher is Managing Director of Haymarket Automotive, comprising What Car?, Autocar, Classic & Sports Car and Car Aftermarket Trader (CAT).

“Following last Monday’s lockdown announcement they dipped a little to track up 5.5% year-on-year through to Friday, but last weekend they bounced again, up 9%. If you are an optimist like me, you have to hope that the announcement of another lockdown was the low point of at least this first quarter, and that the upward trend continues”.

“What’s clear is that we have strong numbers of buyers researching their next car, a growing share of buyers that is comfortable operating in an entirely digital field, and crucially, a large share of these buyers that are looking to buy their next car before the showrooms open – giving the market some much needed continuity ahead of a return to more normal times”, she added.