Auto dealers brace for shutdowns, absences as cases surge

Laveta Brigham

“Dealers have been resilient through this unpredictability, and dealers will continue to adapt to whatever is thrown at them,” Rhett Ricart, chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association, said in a webinar last week. “Do you know why? We have to. Dealers are not only essential, but we’ve been critical.” […]

“Dealers have been resilient through this unpredictability, and dealers will continue to adapt to whatever is thrown at them,” Rhett Ricart, chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association, said in a webinar last week. “Do you know why? We have to. Dealers are not only essential, but we’ve been critical.”

Although dealers have added capabilities to handle economic restrictions, orders can be complicated and confusing.

During New Mexico’s first stay-at-home order in March, Melloy Chevrolet in Los Lunas, south of Albuquerque, started its Melloy Personal Shopper Program to make the virtual car-buying process seamless for its customers. But on Nov. 16, the dealership closed again, saying the state’s new shutdown doesn’t allow any contact with customers.

“We did a lot to make sure it was simple to shop online, but right now, it isn’t doing us any good,” said Dennis Taylor, the marketing manager.

Charles Henson, president of the New Mexico Automotive Dealers Association, told Automotive News on Tuesday, Nov. 17, that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s orders didn’t address online sales specifically, so he was advising dealer members to err on the side of caution and avoid deliveries.

An update from the governor on Wednesday, Nov. 18, specified that auto repair is essential, so it is allowed up to 25 percent of the building capacity. Nonessential businesses, including “big-box retailers,” may “provide curbside pickup and/or delivery of goods to customers.”

But Taylor said the clarifying statement didn’t make any difference.

“It doesn’t seem like there is any reason for this shutdown to be different, but it is,” he said.

The pressure is on for dealers to be community leaders when following protocols set by the government, said Ricart, who is also CEO of Ricart Automotive Group in Columbus, Ohio.

“No one wants to be on the front page, or be on the television news at 6 o’clock, talking about how the health department had to come in there and cite them because they didn’t have their people” follow health and safety protocols, he said in the webinar, hosted by the Automotive Press Association.

Ricart said being strict on safety protocols is necessary to keep his community safe — including his 500 employees.

“I’m not going to put my people at risk because I think I’m going to walk around without a mask on,” he said.

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