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Consumers more likely to consider used than new

2 min read

As used-vehicle prices rise and retailers plan to expand their used operations, Americans’ intent to buy previously owned vehicles is outpacing consideration of new vehicles amid economic uncertainty related to COVID-19, according to a study by McKinsey & Co.

The consulting firm’s COVID-19 Auto & Mobility Consumer Insights study found that American consumers overall are more hesitant to buy or lease a vehicle since the outbreak began. Used-vehicle consideration remains down compared with pre-pandemic levels, but it is stabilizing, while new-vehicle intent is decreasing.

The study, conducted in seven global markets including the U.S., surveyed approximately 1,200 consumers in the U.S. four times in May through July, of which approximately 400 respondents had intent to purchase or lease a vehicle. It asked them:

1. Before COVID-19, whether they were “not likely, likely or very likely” to buy/lease a new or used vehicle in the next 12 months.

2. Given the current COVID-19 situation, whether they were “not likely, likely or very likely” to buy/lease a new or used vehicle in the next 12 months.

In the latest survey, conducted July 15-17, 70 percent of U.S. consumers who had an intent to purchase said they would buy a new vehicle in that time frame (likely 25 percent; very likely 45 percent). It was the lowest percentage among the markets surveyed: United Kingdom (82 percent), Germany (91 percent), France (100 percent), Italy (79 percent), China (91 percent) and Japan (90 percent).

The percentage of U.S. consumers who had intent to buy a used vehicle was higher, at 78 percent. It was higher than in the U.K. (71 percent) but lower than in the other five nations.

Between the June and July surveys, new-vehicle purchase intent declined 4 percent while used-vehicle intent rose 2 percent.

The average listing price for a used vehicle in the U.S., between the 2004 and 2020 model years, was $21,558 in July, Edmunds said last week. That’s an increase of $708 compared with June’s average listing price.

“The used-car purchase intent is slowly recovering, or stabilizing, on a slightly higher level than the new-car purchase,” said Hans-Werner Kaas, senior partner, automotive practice at McKinsey’s Detroit office. “I think there is a higher degree of uncertainty behind it.”

Kaas said a vehicle’s utility function, whether it be used for running errands, grocery shopping or driving to and from work, has not changed throughout the pandemic.

“But I think what is changing now is there is economic uncertainty out there and public health uncertainty,” he said. “The consumer does weigh [that] when he makes a purchase and in which price level he makes the purchase.”

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