Obviously, when we tell a potential customer that to get behind the wheel of the car he is ready to buy, he will have to wait a year, he hesitates. And often, he leaves the dealership without having signed any purchase order. As Pierre-Olivier Marie demonstrated in his survey, the semiconductor crisis, these chips which equip all of our cars to varying degrees depending on whether they are low cost or premium, really affects automotive distribution.
Does it explain the big blow of firedamp in September and the drop in sales of 20.5% recorded during this back-to-school month? Partly yes, but only partially. Because the figures, at the same period, have only decreased since 2019. That year, 173,000 cars found takers. Last year, September was to be marked by the recovery after the months of confinement. Patatras: only 168,000 cars were sold at that time, to arrive at the catastrophic figure of 2021 and its 133,835 purchase orders signed only.
If we can therefore partially attribute the spectacular fall of last month to microprocessors, or rather their absence, the decline in sales is not only cyclical, but indeed structural and has lasted for three years. A disaffection with the purchase of a car that another indicator underlines: it is the average age of the French car fleet: it has aged a lot and did not wait for the shortage of semiconductors for that. In 2015, it was 8.9 million cars, reaching 10.6 years in January 2020, just before the health crisis.
Catalogs yet brought up to date
But then, if chips are not the only cause, what can explain this reluctance of the French to enter a showroom to afford a new car? The lack of new products? Of course not. Manufacturers have never deployed so much imagination to renew their catalog, which for many of them has been almost completely updated over the past three years. What if this disenchantment was linked to a certain fed-up with the constraints of car traffic? From 80 km / h which we do not know very well if they are still in force or not, to the constraints linked to city traffic, including the price of cars. They cost, on average, 27,000 euros and have been rising steadily for years.
To this sulking, is added another phenomenon, never seen since the existence of the automobile: the potential buyer must no longer choose a car according to his tastes and his money, but according to his needs. Thus, by going to a dealership, the seller will not ask him which car he wants, but how he lives and what are his modes of travel (or rather of mobility). Does he drive to his office a few kilometers from home every day? He will be able to buy an electric car. He has the same habits, but must, from time to time, make longer journeys? The plug-in hybrid is for him. Finally, if he spends his days on the road, he can, at a pinch, afford a good old thermal. And even, in extreme cases, to drive on diesel, on condition of not putting the wheels in town.
An order instead of the order form
In short, we no longer buy a car: we have a prescription issued by the mechanic who prescribes what we are able to drive. This medical aspect of the purchase necessarily limits the pleasure which was, until now, one of the main triggers of the purchase of a car. We would go to the mechanic to be amazed, and we would go to the auto show as we would go to Disney. The latter are dying, the cancellation of the 2022 Geneva Motor Show is further proof. As for the first, they see their show rooms deserted.
To these auto evils, we should add the fear of the future that grips most motorists. They ask themselves existential questions and wonder what will happen to the hybrid when the electric wins? What will become of their electrics when hydrogen has won? These questions stacked on top of other worries, pitfalls and crisps shortages facing the automotive industry produce one of the most devastating cocktails the industry has seen. And it is really not certain that when semiconductor production has regained its cruising speed, the throes of the auto will have ceased for good.