Thursday, September 24, 2020
Features The COVID-19 Effect: Carmakers Are Adjusting Their Focus

The COVID-19 Effect: Carmakers Are Adjusting Their Focus

Already, carmakers are talking to consumers in a different way, one that may last a long while.


  • The lockdown won’t last forever. Despite the global financial turmoil,  people will want to buy new cars.

  • Manufacturers are putting action plans in place to sway buyers into their products.

  • Product still rules but the message is now about the consumer.


From the near onset of this pandemic, manufacturers have adjusted their tone and demonstrated lenience, understanding, and compassion. This re-focusing has been a welcomed breath of fresh air for all of us with many questions relating to our car loans, warranties, and repairs. This new and reactionary attitude may have lasting effects.

This “we’re all in this together” sense will likely transcend the current COVID-19 pandemic and stay for a while. As most of you have read, the world’s finances and economies are in various states of crisis but life will go on. As such, millions of us are or will be in the market for a new vehicle in the short and medium-term. The contents of a manufacturer’s message will make a huge difference in their bottom line.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-e AWD winter
2021 Ford Mustang Mach-e | Photo: Ford


Sending the right message

As we all know, there’s no such thing as “shoppers” anymore, only buyers. This is the result of many converging facts, from emerging purchasing technologies, the accessibility of information and media, and that most cars are “good.” As “tire-kicking” is no longer part of the process, what will be said by manufacturers will have never been more important. Sure, fuel economy and pricing are still key however competition for attention will be hard-fought, going forward, more than ever.

Motor Illustrated‘s covered many stories on how manufacturers have stepped up and offered payment deferrals, warranty extensions, road assistance, and more. Many OEMs have rolled up their sleeves to produce much-needed medical equipment and others yet have extended vital services to front-line medical workers whether or not they own the product. Many, if not all manufacturers, have what they call Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and in times like these, it is in full effect. This is one point Patrick Saint-Pierre, Porsche Canada’s Manager of Public Relations, brought up as being a motivator behind their decision to offer Roadside Assistance to all front-line healthcare workers.

2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray | Photo: Chevrolet


The start of a new phase in communication

While it remains important to talk about the product, mention figures and whatnot, these are not pieces of novel information – all of this is available to anyone with access to the internet, at any given time – that’s what we’re here for.

We chatted and exchanged emails with a few carmakers in order to get a better sense of what they might be considering in their future marketing campaigns. While we couldn’t get a clear answer as to the exact message, we were given a fair amount of insight.

This pandemic is a very human experience, albeit a bad one. This is why the customers are and will be the focus of many campaigns. In a way, the manufacturer will want to establish some form of common and optimistic bond between the viewer/listener and the brand. We think of it as a: “We know you’re hurting, but when all’s well, think of us for your next purchase.”

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime – Toyota

One element in this second phase of post-COVID-19 marketing will that consumers should and can buy with confidence. According to many experts, this pandemic will continue for a while yet and many other waves of infections are predicted. Building a relationship with existing customers and potential new ones will be an exercise in trust-building.

Reassuring buyers that acquiring with them is a wise decision will be akin to adopting a whole new outlook, and behavior. The words “confidence”, “trust”, “security”, “safety”, “support” and other such terms will become commonplace in the uncertain times that lay ahead.


Product remains a priority in a virtual world

As for the medium term, product will once again take over. And this is expected. But, in the meantime, online shopping tools have and will quickly become a manufacturer’s and dealer’s best friends. Car companies have in fact fast-forwarded this technology’s development over the last few months, as noted by Jean-François Taylor,
Senior Product Public Relations Specialist Marketing at Hyundai Canada.

This will be the single most important distinction between pre- and post-COVID as most of the transaction process will henceforth take place online. Virtual showrooms are to become essential “Shopping” tools. These tools, and these technologies will also be noted, more than ever, in all communications from car builders.

For dealerships specifically, and its customers, these tools have the potential of bringing all closer together, in a virtual manner. Communication between the two entities will be more focused, information and result-driven. If done right, dealerships will benefit heavily from this approach as, importantly, buyers may feel more at ease, potentially less intimidated in the process, and willing to make a purchase.

auto sales

We must remember that although online retailing will take on a larger role, the dealership, the human “touch”, will remain crucial in the transaction. The overall purchase experience includes these establishments, which will continue to play important roles in their communities and will serve as a constant link – they are the font-line in the automotive industry.


This is an opportunity

Generally speaking, everyone contacted remained optimistic about the future. They all considered the current changes as an opportunity to better the entire car-buying method. Some invoked the fact that moving the purchasing process to a more virtual platform was overdue.

Finally, all manufacturers are dedicated to helping out as best they can in these tough times. Obviously, they are in the business of selling cars and making money but as of now, few other industries stepped up as quickly following the COVID-19 pandemic. They hope you’ll remember them when you get your next set of wheels.

2021 Hyundai Elantra
2021 Hyundai Elantra | Photo: Hyundai

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Matt St-Pierre
Matt St-Pierre
Trained as an Automotive Technician, Matt has two decades of automotive journalism under his belt. He’s done TV, radio, print and this thing called the internet. He’s an avid collector of many 4-wheeled things, all of them under 1,500 kg, holds a recently expired racing license and is a father of two. Life is beautiful. Send Matt an emai

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