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The Road Ahead for UK Automotive Innovation


Regardless of what Brexit may bring, there are clear signals from UK consumers which features they value in a car, indicating the road ahead for automotive innovation.

“My car makes my life more comfortable.”
GfK’s Consumer Life Study gives a global view on vehicle attributes, each one influence in the decision making process, and if the attributes evolve over time. Comparing the latest global results with the UK rating, we can see that British motorists value cars that are enjoyable to drive – ranking seventh out of 17 attributes, versus tenth globally.

Supporting this trend, comfort (+10%), a smooth ride (+6%), adjustability of seat configuration (+7%) and passenger technology (such as audio or video streaming and social network connectivity (+8%)) have become more important to consumers when looking at Consumer Life Study results between 2011 and 2016.

These developments establish comfort and ease of technology use as unmissable markers on the innovation and communication messaging map in the years to come.

Reliability and safety first
Where connectivity and comfort are differentiating factors for brands and car models, the base needs to be covered first and foremost. In the UK, as globally, the most important factor when buying a new car is its perceived reliability, followed by safety in an accident. But there are many factors influencing a consumer’s model choice. Back in 2011, the aftershocks of the recession were still felt around the country and fuel prices were at an average of £1.34 for a litre unleaded petrol and £1.39 for diesel.

With a steadily recovering economy and a decrease in fuel costs by 19% and 22% respectively (2011 vs 2016), we see that fuel economy (-6 %) and low running costs (-6%) have become a less significant factor to consumers when purchasing a new car. This not only signposts changes in the marketing of petrol fuelled cars, but it also puts another complexion on the low energy cost argument often used as a selling point for hybrid and electric vehicles. Following that, we’re looking at a shift towards – for example – sustainability related arguments becoming increasingly relevant in the purchase decision for an alternatively powered car.

A Marque of Quality
Despite – or perhaps because of – recent shake-ups in the auto industry, the manufacturer’s reputation and image weighs higher when deciding which brand or model to buy (+11% between 2011 and 2016). Considering the change in cost awareness, this development fits with the customers’ overall move towards an increasing willingness to buy into brands they trust and are having an overall positive experience with.

Car industry continues to defy economic uncertainties
The road ahead for the UK economy may bear uncertainties and established brands are mending reputational fences, but with September registrations up 1.6% compared to the same month last year, new car sales haven’t been affected so far. In addition, GfK’s Consumer Confidence Barometer saw its major purchase index increase by 7 points to be full 14 points ahead compared to the score twelve months ago.

This suggests that UK consumers are still happy to consider buying large ticket items such as cars. In fact, by linking new vehicle registration figures with consumer confidence data, GfK’s CCB Forecasting tool estimates UK new car sales over the next four months – supporting its users to align internal sales forecasts and short-term marketing strategies accordingly. For January 2017 for example, we estimate an average of 175,397 new cars will be sold in the UK, compared to January 2016 (169,678) an increase in sales by 3.3%.

For more information about GfK's Consumer Confidence Barometer click here.

For more information about GfK's Consumer Confidence Barometer click here.