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Car-buyers want unaccompanied test drives post-COVID, research finds

Vince Powell, managing director of AX Innovation

Almost two thirds (63%) of drivers want unaccompanied test drives to become standard practice, according to new research by AX.

The survey of 2,000 UK motorists revealed that 91% see test drives as an important part of the car buying journey.

When asked why unaccompanied test drives were preferred, the top reason given by seven in 10 drivers was that it would help them to concentrate on the car itself.

Six in 10 drivers said it would make the test drive experience ‘less awkward’, while 54% said it would enable them to choose their own route.

Just over half would feel they could test the car’s performance more thoroughly and 49% said they would feel under less pressure to make a driving mistake.

Vince Powell, managing director of AX Innovation, said: “While some drivers prefer having a salesperson join them on a test drive, our research shows the majority would prefer to be unaccompanied.

“Driving an unfamiliar car requires an extra level of concentration, particularly when you are trying to determine whether or not the car is right for you, and many buyers clearly don’t welcome the distraction of a salesperson.

“However, it’s perfectly understandable for dealerships to have concerns that some customers may mistreat vehicles without the supervision of a salesperson. This is where telematics devices play an important role, deterring customers from driving vehicles inappropriately.”

UK car retailers should be working to ensure that organising a test drive is as easy as ordering an Uber, according to automotive eCommerce specialist drivvn.

Polestar UK plans to get up to 30,000 car buyers behind the wheel of its Polestar 2 performance electric vehicle (EV) with the help of a new ‘test drive hub’ in Milton Keynes.

AX said connected vehicle software can help dealers manage unaccompanied test drives, providing vehicle location tracking, alerts of driver behaviour and misuse and by removing disputes around speeding fines and other charges.

According to AX, almost 70% of drivers said they would be happy to test drive a vehicle equipped with a telematics device, compared to just seven per cent who said they would not.

Of all age groups, young drivers are the most likely to demand unaccompanied test drives, with three quarters of 18–24-year-olds stating this would be their preference. This compares to 59% for drivers aged over 65 years old.

Powell added: “Our latest research confirms most drivers are happy to drive cars with telematics devices, especially if it gives them the option to drive the car unaccompanied or to have an extended test drive.”

AX said it has seen strong demand for unaccompanied test drives through its AX Manage software since the easing of restrictions after the first lockdown last year, when test drives unaccompanied were able to resume.

Test drive bookings now make up approximately half of all AX Manage bookings compared to just one quarter pre-pandemic.

The survey also identified the preferred test drive length among consumers, with 62% stating a time between 15 minutes and two hours as the ideal length to test a car. However, one in five drivers said they would desire an extended test drive lasting three hours or more.

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