Navigating The New Normal:
How The Automotive Industry Needs To Evolve Post-COVID-19
By Thierry Sabbagh, Managing Director, Nissan Middle East
The current COVID-19 pandemic has brought forth unprecedented times for the automotive industry both globally and regionally. Car brands have had to quickly learn how to address global disruptions in supply chains, and during extended periods of lockdowns and restrictions. However, this pause in activity gives automotive brands the opportunity to reflect on the way we communicate and engage with existing and prospective consumers, partners and dealerships – and how this needs to evolve as we step into a post-COVID-19 world.
With a surge in online consumption habits and engagement, there is a growing consumer expectation for brands to be socially responsible while remaining relevant. We need to strike the right balance between driving the right level and type of engagement, and nurturing brand loyalty. This directly translates into dialing down product and sales-led communications and ensuring all approaches are responsible, transparent and consumer-centric.
We identified three groups that needed swift and effective communication as the pandemic hit – customers, employees and partners – each requiring a different approach. For customers, we highlighted precautionary measures put in place and alternate channels for vehicle support; for employees, we facilitated a remote-working process to prioritize their health and well-being; and engaged in discussions with our partners to address their immediate concerns and plan for the future.
Many car manufacturers, including Nissan, have also pivoted logistics and production experts to ‘crisis engineering’, stepping up to manufacture and deliver specialist medical equipment to hospitals around the world. We have seen the production of Q-Vent respirators in our Barcelona plant, sorting and packing of protective face visors for the NHS in our Sunderland plant in London, and face shields being manufactured in Japan.
We need to keep in mind that priorities can shift overnight and as such, keeping the finger on the pulse is key. Whilst Nissan Middle East launched a video called ‘Ode to Empty Roads’ echoing the authorities’ direction to stay home at the very beginning of the crisis, the easing of restrictions over the last few weeks signals a need to reconsider the impact on consumer behavior and needs. We can already see trends that have been emerging and will continue to shape the automotive sector in a post-COVID-19 era.
Digital takeover: For years, experts have highlighted the growing importance of online and social media for consumer engagement; however, the current pandemic has kicked this into high gear. Online is not just a preference, it is now a way of life – and audiences beyond digital natives are getting on board.
The post-COVID-19 customer journey will have a longer online phase – making it paramount for car brands to accelerate their digital footprint and provide multiple touchpoints for audiences – right from the discovery phase to sales and beyond. More brands will need to look at refreshing the typical car launch program and explore technology-driven solutions to connect with customers more directly.
Value for money: As countries continue to tackle the long-term effects of COVID-19 on economies, consumers are bracing themselves for a long recovery period, which will in turn effect their spending patterns over the coming months. While cars are already viewed as a sizeable investment, existing and prospective buyers will be even more keen to derive the maximum value for their purchase. While car brands have already started rolling out flexible financing options during this time, we will also need to look at other value-added services to attract and serve customers, including extended warranty and service contracts, which can also potentially boost car resale value.
Heightened health and safety consideration: Although mobility is expected to pick back up when the pandemic eventually abates, most consumers will apply a lens of caution when it comes to health and safety. While safety has always been a key purchase driver, we expect an increased demand for features such as air purifying systems and filters – particularly for family cars.
The safety element has already understandably trickled into the aftersales segment with strict disinfection measures in place for all vehicles being delivered to customers, and we expect this to surely continue in the coming months.
Convenience is king: As the current situation progresses, people are looking at brands to provide solutions that can ease their lives, as well as support their future plans– and car brands are no exception. There is a need to broaden the range of aftersales services for customers, as well as bring these online for ease of access and use. Many vehicle dealers in the region have already begun offering door-to-door vehicle maintenance and test drives, and we see this trend staying for a prolonged time even after COVID-19, with the most convenient options edging out the competition.
While the above are some of the trends we anticipate from a consumer perspective, the biggest imperative for car brands in a post COVID-19 era will be to remain agile. As restrictions look to ease up in the coming weeks, the automotive industry needs to adopt a more hands-on approach to gathering and analyzing customer sentiment, in order to build capabilities in real-time and provide effective solutions that will not only drive awareness and consideration for their products and services, but also garner brand loyalty in the longer run.