Car makers go online amid lockdown but will the model work?

As the coronavirus lockdown continues, the automobile industry is going online to sell cars. Though a few companies were selling their products online even before the Covid crisis, it was largely an underutilised option. Will the lockdown open new avenues for the embattled industry? finds out

Nisha Qureshi
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Car makers go online amid lockdown but will the model work?

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The countrywide lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic has forced automobile manufacturers to go online to sell their cars. Already facing a tough time because of the economic slowdown in 2019, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced all dealers and showrooms to down shutters cross India during the lockdown period, causing huge losses to the industry. But not to be deterred, brands such as BMW and Tata Motors have announced that they will sell their cars online.

Tata Motors launched its ‘Click to drive’ initiative to help consumers to purchase a car online. The company partnered with 750+ dealers across India to provide home deliveries and also offers consumers a ‘collect later at a dealership’ option. The features of the car are explained through video brochures. Customers will also get online financing and exchange services. To access the platform, customers can visit

BMW introduced ‘The BMW contactless’ experience amid the lockdown to initiate online sales. Customers can book cars online. The vehicles will be sanitised and delivered home keeping in mind the current situation.

But how viable are these options in the current situation? 

Ambi M G Parameswaran

According to Ambi M G Parameswaran, Founder,, the Covid-19 period is a new opportunity to engage with prospective customers online. “Will you be able to sell a car online? I have my doubts. But if done right, you can map a customer’s decision journey and engage with the customer across all stages.” 

Santosh Desai

Santosh Desai, MD and CEO, Future Brands, feels the model might work for people who are not first-time buyers and are familiar with the features. “In the Covid period, the online model certainly works because while normal car purchases require an extensive amount of searches, there are a lot of purchases that are a repeat or replacements. If the lockdown continues for a long time, I do feel it becomes possible for some car buyers to feel comfortable with such kind of buying because they might know the brand or must be familiar with the features. Also, if you have inventories it certainly is a worthwhile effort to make. However, it cannot substitute the conventional way of selling cars. Given the circumstances, it is worth a shot,” he said.

Desai said such activities will help in a high-level consumer engagement and it is a good time for companies to test such channels of engagement. “From a company’s perspective, if you want to test the channel, it is a good time to do that and take it on a trial run. This has to be compared not in the ideal scenario, but in the worst-case scenario, which is the current reality. All dealerships are closed and you are getting zero sales. It is a good time to keep the conversation going. People might not be in a situation to buy right now, but they certainly have time. At such times, brands should look at engaging in a meaningful way but not from a sales perspective,” Desai added.

Can such models be explored in the post-Covid period?

Online sales of automobiles is not new. Last year, Mercedes Benz launched its e-commerce platform to sell their cars. Martin Schwenk, Managing Director and CEO, Mercedes-Benz India, said there was an increase in online demand for cars since last year.

Martin Schwenk

“We started our e-commerce platform last year to support such customers in booking their three-pointed star online. Customers can visit our online store,, to book their car with an innovative home delivery option. This platform is extremely user friendly and makes booking of a car simple and hassle-free. We want to be where the customers are. Since the start of online sales of our cars this year, we have witnessed positive momentum and demand. There is certainly a surge in the online inquiries as people are able to visit the site and check availability. We believe that ordering a car should be as easy as ordering food online — a significant part of our total sales by 2025 will be online.”

Addressing the future of online car sales, Parameswaran said, “Selling cars online is not something new. It has been tried for well over a decade now. At one time there was an expectation that online sales would cross the magic number of 10%. But that has not happened, anywhere in the world.”

“Car purchase is far from everybody’s mind now. But I see car sales moving up during the festive season. Carmakers are well-advised to save on their advertising money and unleash it a few weeks before the festival rush. If they want to engage with their current owners through email, social media and other ‘owned’ media, it makes sense. Spending big money now doesn’t make sense,” he added.

Car makers go online amid lockdown