February 21, 2020 / 8:53 AM / in 3 months

China's Geely starts online auto sales as virus epidemic keeps buyers at home

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese automaker Geely [GEELY.UL] has launched a service for customers to buy cars online and get them delivered directly to their homes, in a bid to drum up sales as the coronavirus outbreak prompts buyers to stay away from showrooms.

FILE PHOTO: A building of the Geely Auto Research Institute is seen in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, China August 4, 2017. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

Other carmakers like Tesla (TSLA.O), BMW (BMWG.DE) and Mercedes-Benz (DAIGn.DE) have also started to promote products heavily online in recent weeks as the health crisis escalated and authorities warned people to stay away from public places.

Consumers can order and customize their cars on Geely’s website, it said in a statement. It will also offer test drives where potential consumers will be able to arrange a drive starting from their home address in coordination with local dealerships.

The coronavirus has killed 2,236 people and stricken more than 75,400 in mainland China, and strict public health measures

to contain its spread have severely disrupted business and consumer activity.

Sales of passenger cars in China, the world’s largest auto market, plunged 92% in the first 16 days of February compared with the same period a year earlier, data from one industry group showed.

Victor Yang, a senior official at Geely, told Reuters promoting online sales will allow automakers to directly reach customers through sales and marketing and help them build experience should they want to continue to do so in future.

Geely, which is China’s most globally-known automaker thanks to its investment in Volvo and Daimler (DAIGn.DE), said that car production in February is around one-third of its usual monthly output, but around 90% of workers will return to work by the end of this month, Yang said, adding the automaker has bought facial masks for workers and dealers.

Geely has partnered with third-party online sales platforms including Tmall (BABA.N), JD.com (JD.O) and Suning.com (002024.SZ) in the past but it is the first time the Zhejiang-based automaker is selling cars through its website. Tesla, which is building cars from its $2 billion factory in Shanghai, has been promoting online sales for years.

Nationwide car sales are likely slide more than 10% in the first half of the year due to the outbreak, and around 5% for the whole year, provided the epidemic is effectively contained before April, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) told Reuters last week.

Reporting by Yilei Sun and Brenda Goh; Editing by Kim Coghill

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