The Digital Car Buyer in Numbers 2018

The Digital Car Buyer in Numbers 2018


Now more than ever, car brands are focusing on customer experience as the key to growing their market share. Our 2018 analysis highlights some startling trends: some obvious (the ongoing growth of the SUV sector), some less so (the diminishing importance of the top 20 best-selling cars).


But one Sophus3 statistic should give us all pause for thought: the number of brands considered by a typical car buyer. It has increased from 2.5 in 2010 to more than five today, a significant shift that has been made
possible by the exponential growth in online research.


At Sophus3, we are increasingly being asked by clients to apply our data knowledge to the bigger, more strategic challenges. As well as optimising the performance of their digital channels, they also want to get ahead of the competition by anticipating trends and comparing themselves to best practice.


Today’s consumer is frustrated by the amount of time it takes to choose, and buy, a new car. There is too much information, some of it contradictory, and the transparency they find in other industries is lacking. Simply put, the car brands who recognise this and create frictionless user journeys, rewarding customers with engaging interactions as they progress towards a purchase, will sell more cars than those who do not. For the first time, the end-to-end customer experience is becoming as important as the products themselves.


The car industry has a long track-record of using data to make decisions and there is an emerging opportunity to use insight to challenge the strategy of habit and create marketing plans that result in engagement and
sales growth. Data interpretation is the area where skills are most in short supply, resulting in a lack of creative leadership in applying insight to strategy. Departments full of analysts can get only so far without the
market-specific experience to guide their thinking.


All of us are excited by the prospect of change in the industry, with disruptive selling models springing up alongside electrification and the promise of ‘future mobility’. At Sophus3, we see our job as giving the
consumer a voice in this complicated and challenging landscape, anticipating their needs so that our clients can plan for success.

Executive summary

2017: The Year in Numbers


  • Traffic to car brand sites in the Big 5 markets saw the biggest increase since 2009 as the market continued to recover. (page 5)
  • 1.3 billion visits were tracked during the year. (page 5)
  • Visit to purchase touchpoints grew but ‘completions’, such as requesting a test drive, remain low: just 0.1%
    of visitors. (page 6)
  • The research journey has shortened to 13.5 days between first visit to a site and test drive request. (page 6)
  • The average number of brands a car buyer considers online has increased to nearly six. (page 6)
  • The average visit lasts just 2min 50sec. (page 6)
  • The majority of site visits – 59% – are made on a mobile device. (page 7)
  • SUVs continue their powerful performance and interest levels suggest there is still room for the growth. (page 9)
  • Online interest in electric vehicles increased notably during the year. (page 9)
  • YouTube has huge potential as a digital channel, but is currently under-exploited by many brands. (page 10)
  • Campaign activity grew in every market except the UK, with Renault again topping the spend table. (pages 11, 12)
  • Vehicle registrations returned to near pre-crisis levels but, again, the UK saw a decline. (page 14)
  • Volkswagen sold the most cars in the Big 5 markets but Toyota added the most units. (pages 16, 17)
  • Diesel sales declined as alternative fuel vehicles (AFV) showed strong growth. (page 19)
  • For every vehicle sold, 113 visits were made to a car brand website. (page 21)


2018: The Year Ahead


  • Short-term activity by digital teams needs to take account of future disruption. (page 22)
  • Online interest in electric vehicles is growing fast, but the EV buyer has different information needs. (page 23)
  • Brands can pivot their PCP and other finance models to a Mobility as a Service offer. (page 24)
  • Integrating finance and click-to-buy functionality helps future-proof car brands. (page 25)
  • New retail formats can succeed with a strong digital component. (page 26)
  • China is displacing the US as the leader in automotive and digital marketing innovation. (page 27)
  • Driverless technology is only months away and will have the most disruptive impact on business models and brand propositions. (page 28)
  • Brands should deal with short-term events while constantly reassessing their future strategy. (page 30)