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COVID-19 Automotive Industry News + Strategies

Every week, the Next Day Traffic blog will provide the latest roundup of news and dealership strategies surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

News: Plant Closures Have Begun

Ford, General Motors, and Fiat Chrysler have officially suspended production at North American plants until at least March 30, at which point the companies will reevaluate. Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen, Subaru, Nissan, and Tesla are among manufacturers temporarily halting U.S. production.

Health safety precautions, deep cleaning, and government mandates are the primary reasons cited for plant closures.

News: Service Centers Designated Essential Businesses

Ten states have issued shelter-in-place orders, with Michigan expected to join the list Monday. With these new order comes confusion over whether dealerships are considered essential businesses. In states like California and Delaware, service departments are allowed to remain open. In Ohio, both sales and service centers have been allowed to operate for now, but that could change as new interpretations of the mandate are released.

For dealers in affected states, the best route is to contact your local automobile dealers’ association and your legal counsel to see which aspects of your business can remain open.

News: Manufacturers Offer Significant Assistance Programs

We are seeing the revival of Great Recession-era relief programs meant to increase consumer confidence in times of uncertainty.

Ford is offering to make up to 3 months of payments for customers purchasing 2019–2020 models, along with an additional 3-month deferment. GM is offering 0% interest for 7 years on select 2019 and 2020 models, along with a 120-day payment deferment. Hyundai is offering to make 6 months of payments for customers who buy or lease before the end of April if they lose their job. Hyundai and Nissan are both offering a 90-day payment deferment for new car purchases.

Strategy: Focus on Fixed Ops

With service centers designated as essential businesses in most cases, dealers can shift focus to fixed ops to make up for slower sales. Customers still need service, and one California dealer reported an increase in March service year-over-year, including routine maintenance. With public transportation shutting down and flights getting canceled, customers are putting more miles on their vehicles. This is especially true for high-mileage vehicles. Consider targeting these owners with service center messaging.

Dealerships may consider extending service center hours to meet increased demand. This is an excellent time to ensure your service center processes are running seamlessly, particularly when it comes to online booking. Running hourly service center checks will ensure a smooth customer experience and can prevent holdups that leave customers waiting.

Strategy: Streamline Online Sales

If your website isn’t optimized for online sales, now is the time to do it. Websites that let customers complete the majority of the sales process online will have a better chance of attracting customers during the pandemic. You can also advertise video chats and phone calls with advisors. 

When advertising for sales, make sure to include all applicable relief programs from manufacturers. These are massive programs meant to reassure customers who are uncertain about their financial future.

An important step is to verify that your dealership has the ability to deliver vehicles, as customers may request this service as a condition for purchase. If not, be sure to be upfront about the vehicle delivery method. Dealers should also check with their state and local governments to verify that online vehicle sales and deliveries comply with COVID-19 executive orders.

Strategy: Communicate Showroom Condition

If your showroom remains open, it’s essential that you communicate health protocols. This applies to both dealership staff and customers. 

For staff, consider hand-washing demos, social distancing protocols like handshake avoidance, and increased cleaning efforts such as hourly wipe-downs. Even small steps like giving each customer a new pen to keep can increase safety and reduce anxiety.

In your messaging to customers, be sure to reinforce the safety measures you are taking. If your dealership is operating on a modified schedule, update sales and service hours across your website, Google My Business, and social media. Dealers should confirm working availability with staff, as this may change depending on sickness and family responsibilities. 

Without a doubt, employees who feel sick should stay home and self-isolate. The most prevalent COVID-19 symptoms are fever, dry cough, and fatigue. However, the virus can be mild and is contagious before symptoms appear, so it is important to encourage monitoring and isolation of those who have been exposed as well.

Stay tuned for another update as we cover the latest on COVID-19 and the automotive industry.

John Paul Strong

John Paul Strong combines his two decades of automotive marketing experience with a team of more than 150 professionals as owner and CEO of Strong Automotive.

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