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Lincoln and Mini ace car sales in the coronavirus era, J.D. Power study says

This year's annual Sales Satisfaction Index took a much closer look at digital retail and remote purchasing options.

With the Aviator, Lincoln reaches into its past to find a way forward.

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Car buying changed a lot this year, even if it doesn't seem like it. It changed so much, in fact, that J.D. Power thinks the coronavirus pandemic primed the industry for a different kind of "new normal" when it comes to auto sales. And the brands that knocked a shift to more digital retail and remote purchasing out of the park are Lincoln and Mini.

That's the conclusion from this year's Sales Satisfaction Index, which J.D. Power redesigned to specifically look at how brands handled more digital interactions amid COVID-19 infections. Lincoln scored 827 points, just beating out Lexus and Mercedes-Benz with 826 points and topping the industry average score of 816 for luxury brands. Lincoln takes the throne from Porsche, last year's champ. Mini received 824 points to punt Buick from its 2019 top and handily outscored the average of 784 points. And for the first time, J.D. Power ranked Tesla with an asterisk, since Tesla doesn't allow the firm to speak with buyers in all 50 states. The unofficial results give Tesla 804 points, which is below the luxury average. It's a particularly interesting nugget since Tesla relies heavily on its digital sales network.

2020 JD Power SSI Study

Here are your winners and losers.

2020 JD Power Sales Satisfaction Index

While Lincoln and Mini came out on top in the luxury and mass-market brand charts, respectively, it's important which brands at least topped the industry average score. There are 1,000 points up for grabs based on six factors of descending importance: delivery process, dealer personnel, working out the deal, paperwork, the facilities and a dealership's website. This year, just under 36,000 new-car buyers completed the survey.

With all of this in mind, the SSI found that the more buyers completed parts of the car buying process online or digitally, the more buyers actually preferred the methods. Up until now, even young car buyers weren't exactly keen on pulling the trigger without stepping in foot inside a dealer. That's not to say in-person car buying is on its deathbed, but it's definitely a harbinger of things to come. Brands and dealers will need to keep perfecting these strategies if buyers at large start flocking to online sales methods.

If anything, COVID-19 brought out the best in many dealers. The SSI study found that car buyers who noted the the pandemic did not affect their buying experience scored a brand seven points lower on average. In other words, if a buyer felt COVID-19 made it harder to complete a deal, brand dealers went above and beyond to make a deal work. Those who took the survey gave 35-point higher marks on average when completing their paperwork online compared to those who did everything at the dealer, for example.

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