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Survey: Our Cars Have Become a Safe Haven During COVID-19

This article originally appeared on AutoVision News. It has been republished with permission.

A new study from Volvo Car USA and The Harris Poll finds that Americans gravitated more toward their vehicles in 2020. Two separate surveys of over 4,000 adults determined that our cars have become a source of entertainment, escape, and solitude during the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey also gauged how participants felt about purchasing a new vehicle and making other major life decisions over the last year.

“As a brand with a deep-rooted legacy in safety, it was critical for us to uncover how Americans are rethinking their approach to safe behavior, both on-and-off the road,” said Jim Nichols, Senior Product and Technology Communications Manager, Volvo Car USA. “These findings confirm that safety is more important than ever to Americans in the wake of the pandemic.”

What The Survey Uncovered

Our vehicles are more than just basic transportation, and the Volvo and Harris Poll survey reinforces that idea in flying colors. As the pandemic continues, the notion that our cars play a significant role in our lives is almost undeniable. More now than ever, our vehicles serve as “personal bubbles” that keep us safe and sane. In the survey, 78 percent said their vehicle has “been a lifeline” for them during this time. Another 63 percent, including most millennials (three out of four), said they regularly take a drive to relieve stress. Over 70 percent believe their vehicle is a peaceful place to spend time.

Although it varies slightly by generation and personal situation, the overarching theme is that our cars are the safest way to get out of the house right now. The findings may not be surprising as the line between home and office disappeared in 2020.

For example, more than half of first-time parents (55 percent) have designated their vehicle as the “alone zone,” while 40 percent of Generation Z respondents said their vehicle was the official “adventure mobile.” Younger millennials revealed they commonly take their car during the day to grab food or a quick snack. In total, 75 percent have used their vehicle as some form of escape (that figure increases to 88 percent in survey participants under 40).

Man driving a car on the open road.
The Volvo and Harris Poll survey finds that people now actually miss certain aspects of their daily commute. Over 45 percent of millennials said they miss having time to themselves. By comparison, nearly 50 percent of Generation Z survey participants said they miss having the opportunity to listen to music or a podcast. Interestingly enough, over half of the baby boomers in the study (53 percent) said they don’t miss a single thing about their daily commute!

Safety Takes On New Meaning

The Volvo and Harris Poll survey underscores how the pandemic has changed which features are the most desirable in a new car. A majority of respondents (82 percent) said safety now has a broader definition than it did before 2020. For example, 53 percent say an air conditioner with a germ filtering system is something they would want in their next vehicle. Another 43 percent said a phone sanitizer for the console, a built-in sanitizer dispenser, and a place to store a mask were essential to have in a new vehicle.

“We are still learning about COVID-19 and how it’s spread, but we may say for sure that this entire pandemic has now made us all germophobes,” explained Tammy Meehan, Founder and Chief Catalyst of The PLUM Catalyst LLC. “From what we know today, it’s clearly opened our eyes to the importance of cleaner and safer transportation.”

According to the Volvo and Harris Poll survey, safety, reliability, and integrity are the top priorities among consumers. A vast majority (84 percent) said they are more likely to consider automakers they view as trustworthy, while another 81 percent will only seek out brands they deem as the safest. By contrast, flashiness ranked the lowest, as only 13 percent of respondents said it was an important attribute to have in a car during the pandemic.

Importance of a Personal Bubble

Personal vehicle ownership is likely to increase, as 50 percent of respondents said they plan to use less public transportation, while another 47 percent said they are less likely to use a ride-sharing service. Mass transit mainstays, like buses, rail, and even planes, may have a harder time providing Americans the same peace of mind as a traditional vehicle. A recent whitepaper from Minnesota’s VSI Labs notes that public transportation is down 75 percent compared to normal.

“Personal transportation is going to get a boost because that is the only way people are going to feel safe moving around in the era of COVID-19,” explained Rudy Burger, Managing Partner, Woodside Capital Partners during the May 2020 edition of AutoSensONLINE. “I don’t think anybody is in a big hurry to jump into a crowded public transportation system; the question is what will replace that, and personal transportation is the answer.”  

“There is definitely a large number of consumers prioritizing their personal and private space when moving around,” said Tim Dawkins, Lead, Automotive & Autonomous Mobility at the World Economic Forum. “And I think that the automakers will be happy to capitalize on that in the immediate term.”

The survey also finds that a growing majority want the option for contactless service and maintenance. Over half (52 percent) said they would like to have their vehicles sanitized as part of a routine service visit. According to the Volvo and Harris Poll survey, 65 percent of those under 40 are currently considering, or have already purchased, a new vehicle during the pandemic. Around two-thirds (63 percent) said they would be okay paying a premium for a vehicle with more safety features.

“Some of the new standard equipment and some of the immediate packages offered by manufacturers may be geared toward getting consumers into safer cars,” Dawkins said. “Now is a good time for manufacturers to add more safety content to their product lines, and it’s also a good time to try and incentivize consumers to choose safer and cleaner vehicles.”

Man detailing the inside of a car.
The Volvo and Harris Poll survey indicates that consumers want dealers to include sanitation and disinfectant procedures as part of routine vehicle maintenance.

Daily Life Has Changed

Survey participants also revealed some of the changes they have made regarding their daily life. Many have invested in home security systems (64 percent) or taken on a remodeling project (63 percent) to better accommodate working remotely. A similar percentage (62 percent) said they have plans to make their living space more green, while around half have entertained moving to a bigger home or an area with more outdoor space.

Perhaps the most significant finding is how 79 percent said they are more worried now about the health and well-being of themselves and their loved ones.

“Maybe over the course of several years, we will trend back towards the way it once was,” Dawkins surmised. “In the meantime, this is an opportunity to spend more time with family, make more time for loved ones, and for self-care.”

The complete survey and its findings were published in Safety First: The Evolution of Driving and Mobility in 2020 (PDF), the latest in a series of works from Volvo Car USA and The Harris Poll. Other studies by Volvo and Harris Poll include how parents can feel overwhelmed when shopping for a car seat and how Americans perceive electric vehicles

Carl Anthony is Managing Editor of Automoblog and a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association and the Society of Automotive Historians. He serves on the board of directors for the Ally Jolie Baldwin Foundation, is a past president of Detroit Working Writers, and a loyal Detroit Lions fan.