The Psychology of Car Buying: What Drives Our Choices in 2024?

By: Brown Car Guy

You might think your last car purchase was an impulse buy, but the chances are several overriding influences led you to the decision to buy that shiny sportscar/city runabout/family wagon/off-roader etc.
There is psychology involved that dictates your decisions often drawing on sentimental memories, abiding loyalties, conscientious statements, personal aspirations, personality projection, self-confidence or insecurities and even the syndrome known as ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ – and if that’s not a medical term, it should be!
But the times, they are a changing, and change too may drive your car-purchase process. What then, could be driving (pun intended of course) your car-buying choices in 2024?

Brands you’re bonded to

You bought a Mercedes because your dad, and his dad before him, had one; or you stick to Toyota because you just always do. Brand loyalty is a thing, and manufacturers thank the Lord of Automotive for it. Traditionally that’s been a steadfast factor in car-buying choices. However, it is shifting, partly because some brands are struggling; either to survive (remember Saab, Infiniti and Mitsubishi – brands that are defunct or have left the UK?) or to retain your custom.

And partly because new brands are courting customers, such as Tesla, but also new entrants like BYD, GWM Ora, Fisker, NIO and more still to arrive. Plus, reinvented brands like MG which is drawing both on the nostalgia for ye-olde British brands and luring the tech-savvy with its sharp-edged EV offerings.

The EV Dilemma

Let’s move straight to the electric elephant in the (show)room – to switch or not to switch? Quite aside from the legislation forcing the hands of manufacturers and dealers (a new ZEV Mandate requires 22% of cars sold this year must be EVs), there is societal pressure to drive eco-consciously. Your neighbours are all plugging in their silent carriages, and peering down their noses at your rackety old diesel coughing out NOx. 

Yet drivers stand at a crossroads weighed down by concerns over range, infrastructure, depreciation, the confusing tech, and wrestling with the monkey on their shoulder filling their ears with stories of fires and child slavery.
Nonetheless, the latest gen of EVs is getting slicker, savvier and sexier and more car buyers will be moving to the silent sensations, either willingly or begrudgingly. The former because they want to make a statement about their concern for local pollution and the global climate; and the latter because they don’t want to feel left out and sneered at.

Cars for a Smart Phone Generation

“Will it work with my phone?” is a very real and important question that manufacturers have been keen to answer in the affirmative for some years now. In-car tech is now taking the place of the traditional thrill of motoring. For some buyers, instead of quick acceleration the greater appeal lies in faster phone-pairing; instead of sublime handling people want driver assistance and safety intervention systems; instead of just an automatic gearbox, auto-pilot systems are desired; and instead of bucket seats, heated and multi-mode massage seats are wonderful.
This year will also see the arrival of Generative AI in our cars. Finally, the true era of talking cars is here, with Volkswagen confirming its offerings will have ChatGPT incorporated as standard from April onward. A definite draw for people seeking not just a car, but companionship.

Click-to-buy

In a post-epidemic world, where we’ve gone cashless, everything is ordered online and we’re used to clicking on a screen to have our desires fulfilled with the ring of the doorbell a day later; the thought of physically going to a showroom, and actually having to interact with a slimy salesperson trying to tie you into a 5-year, high-interest finance deal on a car that doesn’t meet your needs and is way out of your budget, all feels positively icky.

Disclaimer – it is always advisable before choosing a car to visit showrooms, study the different models and specifications, as well as prices and finance offers, take a car for a test drive and, yes, haggling. And not all salespeople are slimy.
Nonetheless, car buying is also undergoing a digital transformation, with the convenience of online platforms, virtual test drives and walkarounds, and comprehensive comparisons. More buyers prefer to click and collect (or have it delivered). Amazon will offer Hyundai cars on its American platform this year, and don’t be surprised to see that extended to the UK soon afterwards.

Influenced by Influencers

Forget car magazines and TV shows like Top Gear, it’s TikTok, Instagram and YouTube that are influencing car buyers’ choices through… well, Influencers.

Our car-buying journey is increasingly swayed by social media, with its plethora of reviews, influencer endorsements, and immersive content. The cars we lust over and the trends we follow are often ignited by the viral phenomena of the online realm, making social media the new battleground for automotive brands – and they know it.
So, when you do view online automotive content, particularly ‘reviews’ check to see if they are from the manufacturer or a content creator and if from the latter, look for the giveaway ‘paid partnership’ caption (a legal requirement) that confirms the creator has been commissioned to produce the content.

Head or Heart? 2024’s Decision-Maker

At its core, buying a car remains an emotional journey. The vehicles we covet are not just machines they are dependable companions, status symbols, and contribute as much pleasure as they do purpose, to our lives. Nonetheless, car buying in 2024 is subtly moving from go-with-your-gut to head-over-heart.

The fact remains that a car is usually the second biggest purchase in people’s lives after a home. More so now, as car prices remain at a record high, especially for electric vehicles. With the cost-of-living crisis largely persisting, buyers are stepping very carefully before signing the dotted line (or clicking the ‘Buy Now’ button).

We’re also firmly in the era of technology-orientated choices, it’s not just fun to have cool gadgets in your car, from autonomous drive and park systems to charging plugs, to connectivity, it’s now a must. Even the manner in which we are choosing and purchasing our cars is being swayed by the digital epoch.

The way we choose, purchase, own, run, and indeed interact with our cars is irrevocably changing in 2024.

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