COVID-19

Pandemic shifts people’s feelings about owning a car

Jack Stewart Jul 20, 2020
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Allen Zimney and his girlfriend, Leila Alvarez, aided by salesman Greg Bowles, shop at the Star Ford car dealership in Glendale, California. Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
COVID-19

Pandemic shifts people’s feelings about owning a car

Jack Stewart Jul 20, 2020
Heard on:
Allen Zimney and his girlfriend, Leila Alvarez, aided by salesman Greg Bowles, shop at the Star Ford car dealership in Glendale, California. Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
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Doug Gordon lives in Brooklyn, New York. He never really saw the need for a car before, but now, he and his family are considering getting one to escape the city.

That’s not hugely surprising, until you learn Gordon is host of a popular podcast all about the downsides of cars.

“If someone like me, who literally hosts a podcast called ‘The War on Cars,’ is entertaining the idea of getting a car, certainly then people who are not as well versed in a lot of the issues and problems surrounding automobile use in cities, they’re probably thinking of it too,” he said.

There’s new data to back that up. A survey, due out Tuesday from CarGurus, looks at consumer sentiment around vehicle buying.

Madison Gross is director of customer insights at CarGurus, and she said that before the pandemic, a lot of the talk was about the end of personal car ownership.

“But right now, all of the data I see is really indicating in the opposite direction, where cars are more relied upon,” she said.

The numbers show that 39% of people planning to buy cars are looking to avoid ride-sharing, and 44% of them say they want to decrease or stop public transit use.

When people do return to offices, this could increase. Michael Simon is from Elucd, a research firm that has surveyed Americans on transit and returning to work.

“Forty-four percent of people who take public transit to work cited that fact, cited public transit as their top concern about returning to the office,” he said.

Just to add to the anecdotal evidence, Simon is another previously car-free Brooklyn resident — and he’s just leased a car.

But Rebecca Lindland has been an auto industry analyst for long enough to have seen previous trends come and go, like in 2008, when people started buying small, fuel-efficient cars.

“That only lasted two to three months, and then people went back to buying a vehicle that suited their wants and needs,” she said.

She added that if public transit starts looking more convenient, and parking and traffic become tough, then the shine might fade from private car ownership.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What do I need to know about tax season this year?

Glad you asked! We have a whole separate FAQ section on that. Some quick hits: The deadline has been extended from April 15 to May 17 for individuals. Also, millions of people received unemployment benefits in 2020 — up to $10,200 of which will now be tax-free for those with an adjusted gross income of less than $150,000. And, for those who filed before the American Rescue Plan passed, simply put, you do not need to file an amended return at the moment. Find answers to the rest of your questions here.

How long will it be until the economy is back to normal?

It feels like things are getting better, more and more people getting vaccinated, more businesses opening, but we’re not entirely out of the woods. To illustrate: two recent pieces of news from the Centers for Disease Control. Item 1: The CDC is extending its tenant eviction moratorium to June 30. Item 2: The cruise industry didn’t get what it wanted — restrictions on sailing from U.S. ports will stay in place until November. Very different issues with different stakes, but both point to the fact that the CDC thinks we still have a ways to go before the pandemic is over, according to Dr. Philip Landrigan, who used to work at the CDC and now teaches at Boston College.

How are those COVID relief payments affecting consumers?

Payments started going out within days of President Joe Biden signing the American Rescue Plan, and that’s been a big shot in the arm for consumers, said John Leer at Morning Consult, which polls Americans every day. “Consumer confidence is really on a tear. They are growing more confident at a faster rate than they have following the prior two stimulus packages.” Leer said this time around the checks are bigger and they’re getting out faster. Now, rising confidence is likely to spark more consumer spending. But Lisa Rowan at Forbes Advisor said it’s not clear how much or how fast.

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