Chris Travell, Maritz vice president of strategic consulting, agreed that more Americans are skipping test drives but said surveying methodology may be behind the different results: "It looks like IBM cast the net a little bigger." The IBM survey "would suggest that fewer American car buyers are test driving on the whole, which is a concern since so much has changed in vehicle technology from the last time they were in the market."
Travell said if IBM's survey is accurate, it means the problem is more serious than the Maritz survey shows.
In October, IBM asked 2,029 adult car buyers in the United States between the ages of 18 and 65 who had purchased or leased a new car in the past three years whether they took any test drives.
For its latest report, Maritz asked more than 120,000 people who had bought a 2012 model vehicle between October 2011 and June 2012 whether they test drove the vehicle they eventually purchased.
The pollsters disagree about what will become of test drives in the future. Gyimesi predicts the percentage of consumers forgoing the test drive will continue to rise, as reliable information sources such as Consumer Reports and Kelley Blue Book grow and improve.
Also, physical test drives will decrease as automakers step up their efforts to stimulate the car-buying experience through virtual automotive showrooms allowing the consumer to interact with a 3-D rendition of the vehicle on a video wall, he said. Gyimesi said Jaguar Land Rover, Audi and Nissan have begun experimenting with virtual showrooms, which eventually will expand to tablets and smartphones.
"These channels for attracting customers and selling to them are in their very early stages and will continue to grow," he said. "I expect all of this will make the desire for a physical test drive lower for consumers."