COVID-19

Pandemic shifts people’s feelings about owning a car

Jack Stewart Jul 20, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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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
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

Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?

Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.

How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?

Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.

How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?

As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

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