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Consumer Trends in the Automotive Industry

We analyzed millions of online conversations to find out how consumers talk about the automotive sector.

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ReportConsumer Trends in the Automotive Industry

How do consumers talk about driving and buying cars? Which car features and product characteristics prompt the most positive emotions? And what’s driving car-buying behavior? 

We used Consumer Research to analyze millions of public online conversations on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Reddit, blogs, forums, and review sites shared between July 1 2021 and June 30 2022. In this report, we’ll discuss: 

Twitter and Reddit users drive the car-buying conversation 

According to our analysis, consumers talk about cars primarily on Twitter, Reddit, and forums. All three are great platforms to express opinions and criticism or to seek recommendations and advice. While forum mentions have decreased in volume by 14% between July 1 2021 and June 30 2022 in comparison to the period of time between July 1 2020 and June 30 2021, mentions on Twitter have gone up 3%, and mentions on Reddit have gone up 29%.

A look across regions revealed interesting differences. While Reddit is one of the most important platforms among English- and German-speaking consumers, Spanish-speaking consumers are more likely to use blogs, and French-speaking consumers are more likely to use Facebook when talking about the automotive sector. 

Below is an overview of the most popular sources of information that car buyers go to for advice.

The forums mentioned above range from a simple image-based board like 4chan to niche forums for Tesla and BMW car fans. 

The most popular subreddits are very advice-driven. Consumers seek advice online before buying a car or when in need of a car repair. These pages deliver valuable customer feedback for product development. Car brands should actively monitor these conversations for an opportunity to talk about helpful solutions, establish relationships, and turn frustrated consumers into loyal customers.

Overall, consumers praised car brands online when they were happy with their experience. And the highest percentages of positive mentions can be seen on review sites. 

In these conversations, consumers describe their positive car-buying experiences and recommend specific auto brands to peers. And this customer feedback often includes terms like “amazing”, “helpful”, “friendly”, “easy”, and “quick”. 

Excellent customer service can come a long way, and these consumer reviews can help to attract new potential customers. A survey by Podium underlines this: 93% of respondents who regularly read reviews say those reviews influence their purchasing decisions.

Cars and driving are emotional topics 

Online conversations can tell us not only how consumers talk about a particular topic or brand, but also how they feel about them. The topic of cars and driving is a very emotional one for many consumers. 

The most commonly expressed emotion in car-related conversations is anger.

Joy was the second most frequently used emotion in conversations. However, joy has also seen the most decline in mention volume between July 1 2021 and June 30 2022 and when compared to the previous period of time: joyful mentions dropped 12% in volume. This could indicate that consumers have become more dissatisfied with car brands and their experiences with the products associated with those brands. 

What's driving these conversations? 

“Time” comes up often in angry discussions. Consumers say it has taken too long to solve a problem or that a particular problem keeps coming up. The second most-mentioned keyword was “people”. Mentions relating to people ranged from general comments around driver behavior to customer service employees not providing satisfactory customer service. “Money” was also a dominant theme in those conversations, especially when unexpected repairs occurred. 

In addition to customer service, delivery issues due to a chip shortage in the industry were also a source of annoyance. The topic of technology was also discussed in a predominantly negative light. The biggest consumer pain points were the absence or poor Bluetooth connection and problems with Wi-Fi.

But not all consumer conversations were negative. While angry mentions took place mainly in forums, most joyful mentions were unsurprisingly seen on Instagram. The visual platform is known for the fact that its users like to showcase and celebrate the positive sides of their lives. It’s also evident in Instagram posts about cars: “Happy” is the word that appears the most in joyful posts. In those posts, consumers introduce their new or rented cars, mention popular hashtags relating to travel and nature, and pose with their vehicles in front of beautiful backgrounds.

Regional differences in the car-buying conversation

Spanish-speaking consumers had the most positive conversations relating to cars, with 66% of mentions categorized as positive. In comparison, only 17% of English-speaking consumers discussed the topic with joy. 

Joyful mentions decreased for all consumer groups we analyzed in the period studied except for German-speaking consumers. Here, mentions expressing joy have gone up 11% between July 1 2021 and June 30 2022 (and when compared to July 1 2020 till June 30 2021). Anger was the least frequently expressed emotion in those discussions; however, anger has also experienced the most growth during the study period. 

The topic of technology is the main source of annoyance among German-speaking consumers, while French-speaking consumers speak negatively about customer service in particular. There were also some differences in the topics that were discussed with the most joy:

  • German-speaking consumers spoke about used cars
  • English-speaking consumers mention their car sharing experiences
  • French-speaking consumers discussed electric cars
  • Spanish-speaking consumers spoke positively about hybrid cars

Topic analysis: Price and costs are driving consumer conversations

Consumers are becoming more price sensitive 

Price is by far the most frequently discussed topic among consumers. Over a third of all categorized mentions revolve around prices and costs. With the cost of living and inflation rates on the rise, it's no wonder consumers have become more price sensitive. This topic is not just about rising car prices, but it also involves the costs associated with car ownership, such as fuel prices, car insurance, repair costs, etc. In general, between July 1 2021 and June 30 2022, the number of negative mentions around price and costs increased by 5% compared to July 1 2020 to June 30 2021.

Regardless of region and language, prices and costs are the main topic in consumer conversations about cars in all studied languages. While car models rank second in English, French, and Spanish language consumer conversations, German-speaking consumers talk more often about e-cars.

Are e-cars on the rise?

E-cars have long seemed to be a distant vision of the future. But in the last few years, the automotive industry has made major progress in electric vehicles, and more and more major automakers are adding e-car models to their product offerings. According to Statista, the global sales of e-cars have doubled in 2021. 

Consumer interest in electric vehicles is also reflected in online conversations, with mentions relating to e-cars increasing 21% from July 1 2021 to June 30 2022 compared to the period between July 1 2020 to June 30 2021. Consumer mentions indicating they are switching to an e-car or looking to buy one increased by over 130% compared to the previous period of time. In our sample of over 22k mentions, the rising fuel prices were the main discussion point. 

Due to high fuel prices, some consumers have increasingly been considering e-cars. 

In addition to general discussions relating to e-car purchases and comparisons with diesel and gasoline cars, English-speaking consumers talked most often about car batteries and driving range. Price and costs were only in third place, unlike for conversations among Spanish-speaking consumers who turned out to be the most price sensitive of all analyzed consumer groups. French- and German-speaking consumers were mostly concerned about the sustainability of electric cars.

The design and aesthetics were the most talked-about e-car features in related conversations between July 1 2021 - June 30 2022. In addition to prices, consumers were particularly critical of charging stations: 85% of emotion-categorized mentions were negative. A major pain point for consumers is a lack of infrastructure for e-car charging stations, especially in rural areas.

Consumer conversations show that there’s a lot of interest in e-cars; however, the lack of e-car charging options or not enough information about their locations is a big issue that prevents consumers from buying electric vehicles, in addition to price. E-car brands should ensure that potential buyers and customers know exactly where and how to find charging stations and that they understand the car’s battery capacity to reduce potential barriers that discourage consumers from making a purchase. 

The importance of sustainability for different consumer groups 

​​We looked into mentions between July 1 2021 - June 30 2022, and overall mentions around sustainability and the automotive industry were down compared to the previous period (July 1 2020 - June 30 2021). There were fewer conversations among English-speaking consumers in particular. Here, mentions dropped by 42% compared to the previous period of time. The picture is different for the other consumer groups we analyzed. The number of mentions relating to sustainability and the auto industry increased 5% among Spanish-speaking consumers, 7% among French-speaking consumers, and 25% among German-speaking buyers compared to the previous 12-month period.

The environment is the biggest topic in English language discussions relating to sustainability. Consumers generally talk about climate-friendly driving or environmentally-friendly cars, especially e-cars and certain e-car models. Cost is also an important issue. Sustainable cars need to be affordable for consumers to make a switch to a more climate-conscious lifestyle, and as we mentioned earlier, the rising prices and inflation could have an influence on making sustainable purchasing decisions.

The car-sharing trend continues post-pandemic 

Car sharing is becoming increasingly popular with consumers. Fueled by the pandemic, more consumers started using car-sharing services to avoid public transport. And this trend in rising interest continues today, as shown on the chart.

German- and French-speaking consumers, in particular, talked about the topic significantly more: from July 1 2021 to June 30 2022, 118% more discussions took place compared to the previous 12-month period. The main talking points relating to car sharing were prices and costs, car models, and sustainability.

Who uses car sharing? 

Car sharing seems to be particularly popular with Gen Z. With the help of Social Panels, we filtered the car-sharing conversation by generation, and 69% of all mentions we studied could be categorized as coming from Gen Z. 

However, the topic is mainly talked about in a negative way, with anger being the predominant emotion expressed in those conversations. Anger has also seen the biggest increase in mention volume from July 1 2021 to June 30 2022 compared to the previous 12-month period – a third more angry mentions. 

What is the biggest consumer pain point? 

Most often, consumers complain online about customer service and bad customer experience, for example, when it’s difficult to reach customer support, or the support team is unable to resolve the customer’s issue in a timely manner.

High demand and exploding prices for used cars leave consumers frustrated

Another trend in the automotive industry is related to purchasing used cars. While general mentions increased in volume by an average of six percent compared to the previous period of time, discussions among German-speaking consumers increased in volume by 18%, indicating a stronger consumer interest in this area compared to others. 

Consumer sentiment in conversations relating to used cars is deteriorating. Three-quarters of all sentiment-categorized mentions were negative, an increase of 14% when compared to the previous period of time. 

As with car sharing, the dominant emotion in conversations relating to used cars is anger, driven by topics like prices and costs. The ongoing chip shortage has led to more consumers switching to buying used cars, and high demand has caused prices in this sector to skyrocket. For example, the consumer price index for used cars in the US has increased by 40.5% between January 2021 and January 2022. On the other hand, surging used-car prices can turn vehicles into a profitable investment, and some consumers are selling their cars to make the most of it.

What do consumers look for in a car? 

Which car features play the biggest role in influencing consumer purchasing decisions? 

To answer this question, we compared different conversation drivers, such as speed, comfort, aesthetics, safety, etc.

Nearly one-third of all categorized mentions talk about aesthetics and the look of the car. Color, shape, and model are frequently discussed by consumers as well. A quick analysis of Instagram posts mentioning aesthetics in hashtags or post captions using Image Insights shows that 16% of photos display sports cars, 9% show classic cars, and 5% can be categorized as SUVs. Appearance is especially important to car fans, while novice drivers or first-time car buyers talk primarily about car handling. For example, they might ask how easy it is to understand the control panels, and new drivers are asking experienced drivers which models are the easiest to drive.

Comfort is the most positively talked about feature, especially in the luxury segment. Comfort plays a greater role for families and parents than for any other analyzed consumer group. Enough room for children and seats for kids are both very important. 

The interior space is also a frequently discussed topic among pet owners. At the beginning of February 2022, search interest for "cars” with consumers mentioning dogs in conversation was at a five-year high, according to Google Trends. The pandemic had a major impact on the popularity of pets. In America alone, 23 million households adopted a pet during the pandemic. With travel restrictions lifted in many countries as the pandemic slowly gets under control, consumers are eager to travel again, and ideally, with their four-legged friends. Pet owners are searching online for the right vehicles or giving others advice and recommendations, like this dog owner on Reddit:

Aesthetics are not the most frequently discussed attributes in all studied regions. While English- and German-speaking consumers mostly talk about the looks, Spanish-speaking car enthusiasts mainly discuss car handling, and French-speaking consumers most often mention roomy car interiors. Comfortable cars trigger the most joy among Spanish- and French-speaking consumers, and German-speaking consumers talk the most joyfully about cars with enough room in the passenger area.

SUVs are a controversial topic

SUVs combine luxury, roominess, and aesthetics. As we discussed above, SUVs are a popular subject in Instagram photos. But how do consumers talk about these spacious luxury cars? 

Online conversations relating to SUVs saw a 2% increase in mention volume from July 1 2021 – June 30 2022 compared to the previous 12-month period, and those discussions were mainly negative. 68% of all sentiment-categorized mentions expressed a negative sentiment, and these negative mentions increased in volume by 21% compared to the previous period of time. 

Consumers primarily expressed emotions of anger, disgust, and sadness. A closer look revealed that consumers are predominantly speaking negatively about SUV drivers and their behavior on the road rather than the type of vehicle. 

The comfort coming with driving an SUV was discussed positively by consumers. With plenty of room and luxury features, SUVs offer drivers a comfortable driving experience. Interestingly, older drivers and senior citizens (consumers who describe themselves as seniors or retired in conversations online) are particularly negative about SUVs, while novice drivers and those interested in buying first-time vehicles have a more positive attitude, with over 50% of sentiment-categorized mentions being positive.

Sponsorships: Reaching a younger audience 

Sponsorship is an important tactic for brands that want to build brand awareness and loyalty, and sports sponsorships are one of the most common ways for car brands to create some visibility. Be it physical events, such as Formula 1 or Daytona 500, or virtual car races – that are becoming increasingly popular in e-sports – companies can achieve more brand visibility and win new customers through sponsorships. The pandemic has led to more people becoming interested in e-sports and e-sports events.

Many car brands have now recognized e-sports as an important marketing channel, and they are promoting teams, sponsoring championships, and organizing their own virtual races. According to Statista, e-sports revenue will exceed $1.38 billion in the US in 2022 and grow up to $1.87 billion in 2025. E-sports activities are especially effective in helping brands reach younger audiences. And, as we saw in online conversations relating to e-sports, a large portion of the conversation (72% of all generation-categorized mentions) came from Gen Z.

Final thoughts 

The rising cost of living, soaring inflation rates, and global supply chain issues all present a major challenge for car brands and consumers. High fuel prices could eventually push more consumers to opt in to buy electric cars. To win consumers over, e-car brands can work on improving the public charging infrastructure and educating consumers on the newest developments in the area, while promoting the benefits of electric vehicles for the planet and the wallet.

Even though online consumer conversations around sustainability relating to the auto industry have seen a decrease in mention volume in the last year, it will remain an important topic, influencing purchasing decisions and fueling the car-sharing and used-car trends. 

For brands in this space, it will become increasingly important to act sustainably and ethically in order to win Gen Z consumers over. According to Deloitte, 24% of Gen Z consumers say they are concerned about the climate and are willing to pay more for sustainable products and services. 

With solutions like Brandwatch Consumer Research, brands can keep track of consumer pain points, needs, and important differences among various target groups and feed those insights into their product and marketing strategy.

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