Since the dawn of the modern automobile, car buying in the US has pretty much stayed the same. Shoppers go to a dealership, kick the tires, haggle over pricing, sign the papers and drive home. And while most consumers now research their next car or SUV online, it's also true that despite penetrating basically every aspect of our lives, the internet hasn't truly disrupted America's fundamental car-buying process... at least not yet.
But, the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, is showing signs of accelerating a shift already underway in the new-car buying process. As more and more consumers stay home and turn to delivery services for any number of goods, where does car buying stand in all of this? Roadshow spoke with numerous automakers to learn how they're handling automobile purchases in the coronavirus era. You might be surprised to learn that the entire process can already be done outside of a dealership in many cases.
The luxury brand tells Roadshow it continues to offer home vehicle delivery -- a service on the menu before the coronavirus outbreak. Vehicle deliveries will continue as needed for customers. An Audi representative tells Roadshow the company recognizes transportation remains an essential service for its customers.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
FCA's brands are newer to the home delivery service game, but a company representative tells Roadshow that the automaker's dealer partners are expanding such efforts amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Some dealers are even offering the service for the first time with corporate guidance from FCA.
The automaker tells Roadshow it's a relatively streamlined process that begins with a customer calling to "see" a particular vehicle. A salesperson can then connect with the shopper via a video streaming service to provide a full walk-around of the vehicle and supply specific photos and more information. Dealers then handle financing and additional paperwork over the phone or via the internet. After an agreement is brokered, the salesperson delivers the car to the customer's home and collects any final signatures in person from the driveway.
FCA officials add that some dealers have also begun pickup and drop-off services for oil changes and other services in direct response to America's ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Not only does
offer new-vehicle home delivery, it's rewarding dealers who take part in this activity. The automaker tells Roadshow a "majority of dealers in the US" are now equipped to handle remote sales. For dealers who work with customers to complete the entire purchase process online, outside of the physical dealership, the automaker will issue bonus payments to the franchise during March and April.
As for Ford's luxury division,
tells Roadshow it has now rolled out its "Effortless Sales Experience" across the entire US. Lincoln works with financier AutoFi to "guide clients through the entire lease or purchase transaction on their own time." The process integrates Lincoln Financial Services and a local dealership. Should a customer decide to pull the trigger, Lincoln is happy to deliver the car to the new buyer's home.
The luxury division also launched Lincoln Showcase at the start of April. Those interested can request an appointment and an employee from one of Lincoln's experience centers will provide a totally digital walk-around tour from the comfort of the buyer's couch. Each appointment lasts roughly 30-45 minutes, so yes, this is a very personal experience.
Right now, it's only available for the Aviator and Corsair, but the brand tells Roadshow it's working to add its entire lineup in the near future.
General Motors launched an online program called "Shop Click Drive" about six years ago, and although it never really became mainstream, the automaker is still reaping the benefits from its experiences today. The program covers each of the company's brands -- Chevrolet,
, GMC and Cadillac -- and a representative from GM tells Roadshow that the program continues to offer multiple customer benefits that forego any need to step inside a dealership.
The Shop Click Drive online tool allows customers to select their vehicle, choose a trim,
accessories and even handle financing through their local dealer's website. When everything's settled with an online handshake, the dealer preps the vehicle and delivers it directly to the buyer's home or chosen location.
The Japanese automaker and its
luxury division have quietly run pilot online shopping programs in select markets, but as the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded, the company finds itself focusing on the new efforts. According to a company spokesperson, the brands have two programs in accelerated development: Shop Simple with
and Acura Precision Purchase.
Shop Simple and Precision Purchase will be fully integrated into dealer websites and provide a one-stop-shop experience online to purchase a Honda or Acura. Customers will be able to search for a specific vehicle, locate it in a dealer's inventory, see the total preliminary transaction cost and apply for financing. If the process results in a sale, the Honda or Acura dealer can provide home delivery "in many cases."
The programs remain in trial with a handful of dealers across the US, but Honda says numerous dealer franchises have developed their own home delivery options, too.
Infiniti officials tell Roadshow that Nissan's upscale division doesn't have a company-wide delivery program. However, they do say that numerous dealers offer their own delivery services for buyers. Overall, it likely depends on your local dealer, but in some cases, buyers can perform the entire process online. Infiniti is encouraging shoppers to work with their local franchise to make specific arrangements so their new customers feel safe interacting with their dealer during the COVID-19 crisis.
The Japanese automaker tells Roadshow the home delivery process varies by dealer and region, but it's absolutely an option for participating franchises. A company representative adds, "We encourage customers to contact their local dealership to discuss options."
The German luxury marque says customers should ultimately check with their local dealer about home delivery options, but didn't note a corporate-wide program. A company representative says, "To date, a small number of dealerships have adjusted their operations based on local developments and municipal orders, including, prioritizing service and roadside support and limiting sales staff to online interaction if required."
The automaker tells Roadshow all of its dealers continue to follow local, state and federal guidelines for staffing and operating hours, but some dealers have begun to install home delivery options for new vehicle purchases. It's not a company-wide program, but a representative adds, "we recommend that customers contact their local store directly to understand available options."
The German luxury and sports car brand says it is continuing to accelerate its work in online retail. Just last October, the brand began digital sales, but now, 26 dealers car carry out car-buying services totally online. Once a customer submits all relevant paperwork, home delivery is an option, with a single signature needed to keep the car in the driveway for good.
Since Tesla doesn't operate a franchised dealer network and sells directly to consumers, its delivery process has always been a little different. However, a spokesperson tells Roadshow that the electric-car company is increasing its "Tesla Direct Drop" program at an accelerated pace. The process results in an entirely touchless delivery experience.
The automaker drops a buyer's selected car at their home or workplace, and from there, all required documents are left to sign inside. After a few signatures, the new owners exit the car and inform the company where they want to take final delivery. Tesla then reacquires the car, ingests the paperwork and drops the car off at its final destination without any face-to-face customer interaction. Owners can then use the Tesla smartphone app to unlock their new car.
Toyota and its upscale Lexus division haven't installed an automaker-wide program, but a representative tells Roadshow that a number of its dealers already operate these types of programs. Certain dealers will let buyers shop online, configure their car and deliver the vehicle to their home at no extra charge.
What is rather neat is the fact Toyota and Lexus have also started sending technicians out remotely to perform oil changes and tire rotations. Toyota says the service is based on availability and customers need to schedule this type of appointment with their local participating dealer.
The Japanese automaker best known for standard all-wheel-drive tells Roadshow that home delivery of its vehicles is absolutely available. However, it depends on applicable state regulations, and such programs are offered at a dealer's discretion. If a local dealer does offer home delivery, buyers "can complete the process entirely online."
First published March 27.