Auto sales in Kerala are fast accelerating to the pre-COVID-19 levels after the easing of the over two-month lockdown restrictions earlier in June.
Business had already returned to about 50-60% of the pre-COVID levels in May, dealers in the state said. This was despite showrooms not being fully functional, vehicle productions almost coming to a standstill, and customers not being able to visit showrooms or banks due to the lockdown restrictions.
This has now made the industry confident about sales returning to normal faster than anticipated.
People are well aware that social distancing would be necessary for quite a long time to come to prevent the coronavirus infection. This is prompting many to go for private vehicles, according to those in the industry.
The industry is also seeing a visible shift in customers buying a vehicle more for family needs than as a status symbol. It is seeing a surge in demand for not only new vehicles but also used ones.
Even two-wheeler sales have picked up substantially. Sabu Johnny of EVM Group, which deals in cars and two-wheelers of many brands, said the sales revival has been so strong that some two-wheeler models even went out of stock.
The industry is pleasantly surprised with the trend given that the showrooms, even though allowed to open on May 4, started seeing meaningful customer footfall only in the second half of the month.
Dealers are busy making short, medium and long term plans for a post-COVID era. They expect business to return to 70-80% of pre-COVID level in June and to return to full swing in July.
According to Maruti dealers, the bookings have been quite good. There were many customer enquiries for vehicles priced below Rs 5 lakh at Maruti Suzuki True Value, which deals in used cars.
Many working women are also visiting showrooms for enquiries, said B Biju, sales general manager of Popular Hyundai. This is an indication that a car is being considered as essential for daily commuting. Households where the husband and wife work at different places now consider two cars as a necessity.
SS Hyundai in Pathanamthitta, which used to register 150 bookings on an average per month before COVID, saw 125 bookings in just a few days in May.
Dealers followed up with phone calls and emails on enquiries made in March before the lockdown, and this helped showrooms register good business as soon as they reopened, said Eldo Benjamin, vice-president, sales and marketing, at Nippon Toyota.
It is not just the shift to private vehicles for commuting, many other factors will also propel vehicle sales, said Sabu Johnny. Low interest rates, easy repayment options and attractive prices and features of BS-VI models will make many people buy cars, he said.
Auto sales will see substantial growth if loans can be made available at low EMIs, the central government promotes the use of new vehicles by introducing a scrappage policy for old vehicles and if the GST is reduced.
If the state allows the payment of road tax in phases instead of collecting it for 15 years in one ago, then the downpayment requirement of customers will fall substantially and this will spur demand, say those in the industry.
The luxury car market will also revive once the wedding and entertainment industries return to normal and large gathering are allowed, they said.