During the pandemic, the world stopped moving. Journeys shrank as leisure travel stopped, and work commutes became a thing of the past.
The findings from our new Mobility Lens Consumer Index show just how dramatic the impact has been. Our first article highlighted key changes in behavior, notably that consumers are avoiding journeys that they no longer need to take. Overall the number of journeys has dropped by 49%, with work travel showing the biggest decline at 61%.
The consequences for the mobility industry have, unsurprisingly, been profound. Presented with a world in which both the need and willingness to travel are greatly constrained, consumers aren’t utilizing shared and public transport like they used to, and car sales in major markets have taken a nosedive. New car registrations in Germany — Europe’s largest market — dropped by 35% in the first half of 2020. In Spain and the UK, the fall was even greater — 51% and 49%, respectively.
All of this has presented unprecedented challenges to an auto retail market already in the throes of an historic (and increasingly government-mandated) shift away from the internal combustion engine (ICE) to more sustainable hybrid and fully electric vehicles. But as hopes for an effective COVID-19 vaccine may have become true, the big question for the sector is: what will happen as the world once again becomes more mobile?
Will we see a revolutionary reset based on new priorities around sustainability, reduced congestion, increasingly digital lifestyles and conscious consumption of mobility? Or an incremental return to previous mobility patterns and modal choices?
We see glimpses of an alternative, digitally forward and lower-carbon future. Less travel for work, leisure and domestic purposes — and rising use of digital substitutes such as video conferencing, streamed entertainment and delivery services — means fewer journeys and lower emissions.
At the same time as avoiding non-essential travel, consumers keen to minimize their risk of infection are shifting to lower-risk modes of transport. The car has become a safe space, the de facto COVID-19-friendly choice for those journeys that are still being made, which is becoming an increasingly important driver of purchasing decisions.
Nineteen percent of car owners say they intend to buy an additional car in the next three months because of COVID-19. But perhaps even more significantly, COVID-19 is also creating a new generation of first-time-buyers — 32% of non-car owners say they will purchase one in the next 6 months. In both cases, around half of those intending to buy are millennials, a cohort that has previously been much less interested in car ownership than their parents.