| 1:11 PM EST

Coronavirus Pushes New Marketing Channels

Options take on new importance as crisis disrupts dealerships, car shows
#asia #europe #Daimler


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How do you sell cars when coronavirus concerns make people reluctant to visit your showrooms?

Maybe you go online with more virtual new-car presentations, hike TV advertising, crank up at-home road tests and expand “touchless” options for ordering a vehicle.

The virus outbreak and its growing interference with traditional sales and marketing techniques are making it expedient for OEMs to lean more heavily on alternate paths to the consumer. Doing so may accelerate the demise of tried-and-true techniques—or test the limits of the virtual world.

Rush to Digital

Not surprisingly, China—where the outbreak began more than a month ago—is a hotbed for such experiments. But this week’s abrupt cancellation of the Geneva auto show in Switzerland has pushed European carmakers to step up their use of alternate channels.

Getty Images

In China, carmakers have had little choice but to get creative after conventional new-car sales through dealers plummeted more than 90% in the first half of February. As The Wall Street Journal reports, Volkswagen hastily created a three-day training course for 50,000 of its salespeople in China about making videos, using social media and live-streaming events from the showroom.

VW says it also has shifted spending from billboards to TV ads in China, because so many would-be customers are staying at home during the crisis. The Journal notes that VW is determined to completely digitize all aspects of its consumer sales and service activities, including ride-share booking, through the company’s own apps.

Expediency Rules

Geely Auto Group reports sales leads from its website in China multiplied 75-fold in February. The Journal says online orders through the company’s new “touchless” service, which enables consumers to buy, finance and take at-home delivery of a new car, grew by a factor of five in its first week.

In Europe, BMW, Daimler and VW are relocating their Geneva presentations to sound stages back in Germany for airing tomorrow. Many other carmakers are turning to virtual versions of their original plans. The new-product unveilings, along with executive comments and special features, will be splashed across each company’s array of social media channels.

Of course, there’s nothing new about OEM websites that connect consumers with dealers, help them spec a new vehicle and enable them to use online tools to process much of the paperwork involved in ordering and financing new wheels. Carmakers also increasingly are staging their own car unveilings, and they routinely post their auto show presentations for all to see.

Jittery Promoters

Auto show organizers, mindful of the cost of building displays for their events, are nervous about what carmakers will conclude when they turn to online alternatives. But heaps of market research suggest there may be little need for worry.

Shoppers already go online to gather most of the information they want about a new vehicle of interest. Likewise, online videos can be an effective way to catch the eye of a likely customer.

But any number of surveys also show that consumers still prefer by a wide margin to experience a new car in person before they finalize a sale.

The question now is whether that preference will fade as OEMs and their customers are pushed to try out pragmatic options.

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