Leading automakers in India take digital route to push sales amid COVID-19 pandemic

Leading automakers in the country are pursuing more and more digitisation across their processes in order to push sales at a time when prospective customers are not so willing to physically venture out to showrooms to make purchases. Carmakers like , Hyundai, Honda, Kia, Toyota, , Mahindra & Mahindra and Mercedes-Benz have taken to digitalisation with renewed vigour as lockdowns and curfews become the new normal amid the raging coronavirus pandemic.

“Digitalisation is the way forward. Given the unprecedented times, we have adopted a ‘Phygital’ approach for our sales initiatives at the dealerships. We have digitised 24 out of the 26 touchpoints involved in a car-purchase journey, except the test drive and delivery,” Maruti Suzuki India Executive Director Shashank Srivastava told .

Digital contributes to more than 40 per cent of the enquiries, he added.

Srivastava noted that the company has over 1,000 plus digital touch-points across India to assist customers through their car-buying journey, from enquiry to booking.

The country’s leading carmaker has partnered with leading online platforms like Google and Facebook bringing global digital expertise to dealer teams.

“We are utilising targeted social media marketing, insightful content creation and immersive AR-VR experiences efficiently and effectively,” Srivastava noted.

Mahindra & Mahindra CEO – Automotive Division Veejay Nakra noted that the company is witnessing a significant growth in digital channel month on month.

“Looking at where we are today, the whole consumer journey is significantly going to shift into the digital world. Having said that, dealerships would continue to play an integral role, but the kind of role they would play is what would change,” he said.

Similarly, Tata Motors (Passenger Vehicles Business Unit) Head-Marketing Vivek Srivatsa stated that the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has understandably brought a lot of change in the buying and selling pattern of customers.

“We, at Tata Motors, too have introduced a host of digitised interventions since the national lockdown of last year. We launched our e-commerce platform, Click To Drive to largely enable contactless end-to-end sales. We received a strong response throughout last year with noticeable spikes in interest as well as purchases, especially during the lockdown,” he said.

Currently, more than 40 per cent of the customers reach out to the automaker via digital channels, a significant increase from previous years, Srivatsa stated.

South Korean carmakers Kia and Hyundai have also lined up digital initiatives.

“At Kia, online sales and staying connected digitally with our new-age customers have been a priority since the launch of our very first product Seltos in the Indian market. The current pandemic has led to faster adoption of online sales across categories. Our robust end-to-end digital sales process has helped us offer our customers a contactless and hassle-free car buying experience from the comfort of their homes,” Kia India Executive Director and Chief Sales & Business Strategy Officer Tae-Jin Park said.

The company’s dealership teams constantly remain in touch with prospective customers to help them navigate through the entire process for a smooth experience, assisting them at every step in their purchase journey, he said.

Similarly, Hyundai Motor India AVP – New Business Strategy Brijesh Gubbi noted that the company is witnessing a shift where advanced digital modes of sales and retail are gaining foothold among buyers and customers are now factoring in convenience to their purchase journey, even for high value products such as automobiles.

“We started following the digitisation trend from an early stage with a focus on solving problems and cater the human side of enterprise. Even before the pandemic, Hyundai was active on all digital channels with numerous initiatives such as ‘Click to Buy’ to support its customers,” he added.

Launched in January last year, ‘Click to Buy’ is designed to facilitate end-to-end retail of Hyundai cars online.

Japanese automakers Honda and Toyota have also beefed up their digital play.

“With the emergence of Covid -19 pandemic last year, we have been single mindedly focusing on bolstering our digital initiatives for driving convenience and peace of mind of purchasing, owning and maintaining car from home, for our customers,” Honda Cars India Senior Vice President and Director – Marketing & Sales Rajesh Goel said.

The company is continually building on its digital platforms like ‘Honda from Home’ & ‘Virtual Showroom’ to offer end to end car booking, buying and ownership experience and solutions with more than 80 per cent of the sales process including backend steps have been digitised, he added.

“Our digital platform has been designed to make it a simple, secure six step hassle free buying experience for our customers. We are enabling customers to digitally browse models via interactive 360-degree showcase for interior and exterior of our models, select their preferred dealership, request test drive, book or buy the car, and opt for home delivery of the car,” Goel noted.

The dealership staff are being extensively trained to facilitate car purchase at home for customers, he added.

Similarly, Toyota Kirloskar Motor Senior Vice President Naveen Soni noted that digital interfaces have become the primary medium of reaching out to customers in today’s time.

“A key takeaway from this pandemic has been the importance of a resilient distribution network. We believe that a mix of large, small and digital formats covering the traditional and emerging markets is the right way to move ahead in 2021,” he said.

Digital interfaces, especially, are here to stay as they will be the pivot point to a quick revival into the “normal” and beyond, he added.

“The ease of use and customer’s growing trust on digital mediums even for a high value purchase like the automobile has vaulted the growth of this Covid inspired revolution,” Soni said.

German luxury carmaker Mercedes-Benz India MD and CEO Martin Schwenk said the company has integrated all its dealer partners seamlessly into its e-commerce ecosystem which has resulted in ease of purchase for the customers.

“We believe that buying a Mercedes should be as easy as buying food online for our customers and underlining this shift in customer mindset, we already have more than 15 per cent of our sales volumes in the first quarter of 2021 from online bookings,” he noted.

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