An increasing number of new-car buyers are confident purchasing a car online despite never having driven it or seen it in person, according to new research out of the United Kingdom – which has been backed by Australian dealers.
A survey of more than 700 car buyers, conducted by online retailer BuyACar.co.uk, found almost 25 per cent of respondents said they would "be confident in buying a car without seeing it, if it was protected by guarantees and a warranty".
For those aged between 35 and 44, this rose to a third of all buyers, while 31 per cent of the 45-54 age group and 27 per cent of the 55-64 age group felt comfortable buying a vehicle sight unseen.
Those under 25 and over 65 were the age groups that still preferred to have an in-person inspection and test drive before completing the purchase.
Additionally, the research found men were twice as confident as women to buy a car online without a test drive or inspection first.
James Voortman, CEO of the Australian Automotive Dealer Association, said while the percentage of sales conducted entirely online in Australia was still small, local dealers were seeing a rising number of people purchasing without an inspection.
"We are seeing more consumers willing to buy a car sight unseen and anecdotally COVID-19 has accelerated this, but it still is a very low proportion," Mr Voortman said.
"The pandemic has resulted in many dealers and (manufacturers) making sure they have the capability to sell to those customers that are willing to buy without seeing the car, but the overwhelming majority still prefer to spend some time in the dealership."
Mr Voortman estimated that although transactions conducted "entirely online" still only represented less than 3 per cent of sales, "most buyers complete some part of the car buying process online".
A growing consumer propensity towards completely online purchasing is part of the business model of brands like Tesla, which carries out most of its buying process through its website.
In fact, in a leaked email from 2019, Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed that, in 2018, 78 per cent of Model 3 orders were placed online and 82 per cent of customers purchased a Model 3 without ever having driven one.
Similarly, a spokesperson from Subaru Australia said the brand's online purchasing tool had found success by "removing obstacles in the path to purchase".
"Subaru launched online buying with the Subaru BRZ in 2012, with the BRZ selling out just three hours after go-live," the spokesperson said.
"Expanding on this success, WRX STI was introduced for online sale in 2013, then Impreza and XV in 2017 followed by the full range in 2018 with the expanded Build and Buy online tool.
"The ability to purchase a vehicle entirely online ensures we continue to offer access to Subaru when and where our customers want. The focus is on giving customers options and flexibility in how they choose to interact with us."