Automakers turn to online sales to boost volumes amid COVID-19 outbreak

New Delhi | Mumbai: Automobile companies Hyundai Motor India, MG Motor and Mercedes-Benz are turning to online portals to boost sales, expecting customers to make a slow return to physical showrooms once the lockdown is lifted.

MG Motor India’s online sales channel is scheduled to become operational by the end of the month. Hyundai is accelerating the launch of its one-stop digital sales platform “Click to Buy.” Mercedes-Benz, which currently sells pre-owned vehicles online, is adding new vehicles on its platform.

As much as a quarter of vehicle sales are expected to happen online by 2025. New-age consumers have already started drawing heavily on online information to make vehicle-buying decisions. The spread of Covid-19 and associated preventive norms of social distancing will quicken the shift to purchases online, auto industry experts said.

“The coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent lockdown hastened our decision to opt for such a solution,” MG Motor India president Rajeev Chaba told ET. “We are expecting a profound behavioural change. We think more and more consumers would now start finding it more convenient to make purchases online.”

MG Motor India’s portal will allow customers to research vehicles, make bookings, schedule test drives, avail of financing options and determine delivery dates.

Hyundai has 10 models available for sale on its Click to Buy website.

“Digital models of retail and sales are garnering traction among buyers. Customers are now factoring in convenience to their purchase journey, even for products such as automobiles,” said WS Oh, executive director (corporate planning) at Hyundai Motor India.

All customer queries can be addressed via dealerships in real time and for customers who finalise purchases, delivery will take place once normal operations resume.

“With the coronavirus situation, this (online sales platform) might be a great option for customers who want to buy a car but do not want to go to any crowded area,” said SS Kim, managing director at Hyundai Motor India.

Naveen Soni, senior vice-President (sales and service) at Toyota Kirloskar Motor said the company estimates a total change in customer buying pattern as more and more customers are now making their purchases online. “To facilitate our customers who are home bound, we have made provisions to entirely digitalize the sales process wherein the customer can take a virtual tour of the vehicle, select financing options and even receive a quotation online. We have also made provisions for delivering the vehicle to the customer’s doorstep upon the completion of purchase,” added Soni.

Maruti Suzuki expects a surge in online bookings.

“Digital enquiries account for 20 per cent of overall enquiries at Maruti Suzuki. This was before the outbreak of coronavirus,” said Shashank Srivastava, executive director (marketing and sales) at Maruti Suzuki. “We expect digital enquiries now to go up further. In the week running up to the lockdown, digital enquiries increased 30-35 per cent.”

Online enquiries are also visible in the luxury segment.

“Of late, there is certainly a surge in inquiries as customers now have the time to go through our offerings in detail at the comfort of their home,” said Martin Schwenk, managing director at Mercedes-Benz India. “We believe that ordering a car should be as easy as ordering food online – 25 per cent of sales by 2025 will be online.”

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