With their showrooms closed during the coronavirus lockdown last month, China’s car dealers embraced live streaming as a way to keep the conversation going with potential consumers who were also stuck at home.

The number of live-streaming sessions involving the auto industry jumped 15-fold in March compared to January, and total numbers of participants was up sixfold, data from a report jointly released by specialist automotive website and app Dcar and the China Automobile Dealers Association showed.

People walk near the showrooms of Chinese and foreign car dealerships in Beijing. China’s auto industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus. (Picture: Reuters)

The peak during this period saw 7,000 car-related live-streaming sessions in a single day, according to the report. As well as professional live-streamers, car makers and dealers stepped up their efforts to promote car sales online. New live-streaming broadcasters from the sector have been growing at a rate of 10% per day.

The report, released last week, compiled data from Dcar, news aggregator Jinri Toutiao and video and live-streaming sites Douyin and Xigua, which are all services operated by Beijing-based start-up ByteDance.

“The new trend of automobile live-streaming has arrived, which has captured the attention of both consumers and content creators with its informative, efficient and interactive way of connecting to its users,” Ma Jun, Dcar’s head of product, said in a statement.

Live-streaming has become the go-to channel for Chinese industries and businesses whose offline sales have been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak which emerged in January, forcing the government to order store closures and travel restrictions until the situation eased in late March.

Various businesses, including real estate and autos, have turned to online platforms to connect with customers. The market for live-streaming e-commerce is estimated to surpass 900 billion yuan (US$127.6 billion) in 2020, up from 433.8 billion yuan last year, while the number of users is forecast to reach 524 million this year compared to 504 million in 2019, according to a February report by Chinese market intelligence firm iiMedia Research.

China’s auto industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus, with consumers in the world’s largest car market putting big-ticket purchases on hold over uncertainty about jobs and business prospects.

The industry had already posted its second consecutive year of decline in 2019, due to sluggish sales during the 18-month long US-China trade war. Passenger car sales slumped by 8.2% last year to 25.8 million units, while production shrank 7.5% to 25.7 million units, according to the China Passenger Car Association.

According to the CPCA, vehicle sales plummeted 92% in the first two weeks of February, with just 4,909 vehicles sold, as the coronavirus lockdown kept buyers away from showrooms.