Autohandel online : per mausklick to the new car

Shopping is becoming more digital, and that also applies to car buying. Sales of new cars on the net have increased. Government purchase premiums also have their downsides.

3, 2, 1. It takes less than ten minutes to buy a Tesla online. Photo: Ding Ting/XinHua/dpa

The path to owning a Tesla is short. It takes less than ten minutes to reach the destination on the manufacturer’s website. Select model, color, rims, interior – the “customer journey” has already reached the checkout after just a few clicks. Payment, leasing or financing is made by credit card, bank transfer or instant checkout. If necessary, delivery is made by express and directly to the doorstep. The appointment gets the customer by mail or SMS. “As soon as the vehicle arrives, you then simply sign the relevant documents and can thus drive off in a matter of minutes,” Tesla promises.

More than 320.000 times, the U.S. automaker has sold its electric cars in this or similar digital ways since the beginning of the year. A record in the middle of the Corona crisis, in which sales figures for the automotive industry as a whole have slumped by more than 20 percent. This is no coincidence. “Companies that were able to address their customers digitally even before the lockdown have a massive competitive advantage,” analyzes a recent McKinsey study. This also applies to car dealerships, which are expensive for manufacturers (30 percent of total sales) and with which, according to the study, only one percent of customers are satisfied.

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Corona brought a boost to digitization, report operators of online portals for new or used cars. “People are more likely to buy products online today that they wouldn’t have expected to in the past. The Corona crisis has reinforced this trend,” says Rudolf Rizzolli. Rizzolli is managing director of Mobility Holding, which includes MeinAuto.de, the market leader for online sales of new cars and new car leasing in Germany. “Added to this is the trend toward monthly installment payments, leasing or subscription. This lowers the inhibition threshold for online purchasing.”Sales of new vehicles via the platform have almost doubled compared to the previous year.

Significantly more demand for mobile.de and meinauto.de

Also at the online vehicle dealer mobile.de, which primarily offers used cars, shows the trend. Around 1.5 million cars, commercial vehicles and motorcycles are advertised on the platform (including 140.000 new cars), the largest offer for the purchase and sale of vehicles in Germany. “Digitalization in car buying has been beamed forward a few years,” says managing director Malte Kruger. “The entire industry must now adapt to this more strongly.”Customers were increasingly turning to digital formats and also wanted online offers for topics such as financing, leasing or concluding contracts.

Some dealers or manufacturers offer the digital process themselves, most use the relevant new car portals. Completely digital processing of the purchase or financing, as with Tesla, is the exception; in most cases, the customer is redirected to a retailer in the end. There are no figures on how many consumers have shifted the entire purchasing process to the Internet and had their vehicle delivered to their home. Many may not yet be.

The way out of the niche has been paved by portals such as MeinAuto.de, Carwow and Autohaus24, which manufacturers use to sell pre-configured new cars. As many as one in ten new car buyers in this country bought their car via such a platform in 2019, according to market researcher Deutsche Automobil Treuhand (DAT). Figures for the current year will be available in January 2021.

“More and more people are placing less and less value on individual equipment and brand loyalty,” says Rudolf Rizzolli. “This is also related to the de-emotionalization of cars in general.”Another reason: manufacturers are having to cut costs and are reducing the variety of models and equipment variants. This lowers costs and simplifies distribution.

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Premiums put residual values for used cars under pressure

This can be seen in new electric cars, such as the VW ID.3, which is only available in defined equipment variants. VW had then also announced its intention to focus more strongly on the digital direct sale of the car and future electric models. The uncertainty of customers as to whether they should purchase an e-car now is being addressed by manufacturers by offering favorable leasing or subscription models with one-, two- or three-year terms. This is where online platforms play to their advantage.

“The proportion of leasing customers is particularly high for e-cars,” reports Mobility Holding CEO Rizzolli. “After the increase in the purchase premium in the summer, demand has gone through the roof.”At times, he said, there have been more inquiries for electric vehicles than for diesels. But the ramp-up of electromobility, spurred on by government purchase bonuses and tax benefits, has downsides that online providers are feeling, especially when it comes to financing. Because the cheaper new cars become, the greater the pressure on residual values and thus on used car prices.

“As financiers, we take an extremely critical view of plug-in hybrids in particular, with a view to residual values,” says Rudolf Rizzolli. Purchase premiums for PHEVs are criticized because the vehicles are rarely driven electrically and therefore consume much more fuel than the manufacturers officially claim. “If the vehicles are far less efficient in everyday use, what value do they still have as used cars? Why should a private customer pay more for it than for a conventional vehicle??”, asks Rizzolli. Rizzolli sees similar distortions for pure e-cars, especially small vehicles, which can only be sold as used cars at high discounts as long as new cars are artificially cheapened with premiums.

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