In most jurisdictions, the number of cars on the road today looks very close to how it appeared prior to March 2020. According to the latest Hankook Tire Gauge Index, the number of commuters who have returned to work at the office or school is at the same level as it was prior to the pandemic’s start.

The report shows that 44% of commuters are driving to the office again and 43% have returned to driving to in-class studies, matching pre-COVID figures. But the potential for an even higher number of drivers on the road exists since three out of four Americans were fearful of ride-sharing in mid-2020 and more than 15% swore they would never use a ride-sharing service again. Instead, many transitioned to owning a car for the first time. Nearly four in five Americans (78%) say they’re most likely to use a car as their primary mode of transportation, at least through Q3 2021.

Generally, 45% of Americans now say they are driving every day, according to the Hankook data. At this time last year, only 20% of Americans were daily drivers as workplaces temporarily transitioned to WFH models or were in the midst of a shutdown. That’s nearing the same volume of daily drivers as pre-pandemic where 54% claimed they drove every day.

Of those surveyed, a full three-quarters expect that they “will return to normal driving habits by the end of the year”. Millennials tend to be the most confident in getting back to prior driving habits, although both Gen Z and Gen X drivers aren’t far behind.

Director of Marketing at Hankook Tire, JJ Park, said “Our latest Gauge Index indicates people are relying on cars more than ever as they resume daily routines, and demonstrates increased confidence in returning to school, work and social activities. Understanding these shifting trends in Americans’ attitudes and opinions about driving offers both the auto and travel industry important cues about consumers’ plans as we emerge from the pandemic, further helping them to navigate the road ahead.”

Americans excited about travel resuming

Air travel is still far below normal volume for leisure, but Americans are looking forward to resuming recreational travel. Most people expect their next trip to be by car (70%) rather than plane (24%) with a feeling of safety accounting for around half of choices to drive.

Only 16% of those surveyed remain uncertain about planning to travel. Of more than 1,000 US licensed drivers surveyed, half have taken a road trip in the past 30 days.

Decompressing from the stress of the pandemic and finally being able to get together with friends and family are motivators for most road trips.

Service departments can touch on road trip safety

As many drivers are anticipating a road trip or daily driving for work or school, it’s an opportunity for dealerships to reinforce the importance of doing more than the basics of maintenance and repair. An opening exists for service advisors to ask about vehicle usage as summer approaches, affording the possibility to recommend usage-centered services like driveline fluid exchanges for towing vehicles or cooling system flushes for aging cars in hot climates.

As always, tire sales are an area to focus as dealer service departments. While profit margins are low for tire sales themselves, it provides an opening for more profitable services and repairs to suspension, brakes, and other systems.

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