COVID-19 Update: Auto Sales & Leasing Is Officially Deemed Essential

By Desiree Homer

The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency revised its essential workers guidance last Friday, and it affects dealers nationwide. Automotive sales and leasing efforts are now listed as essential services. CEO Alex Vetter had created a movement and submitted a petition, signed by dealerships nationwide, to the agency on March 24th. Stating the argument that vehicle sales are not only essential but critical to both consumers and the auto industry, this letter may have been one of the pivotal forces in convincing Washington to make the revision.

The Intense Lobbying Efforts that Fought for Auto Sales Permissions

Initially, Washington released its first round of essential business guidelines in mid-March. While the original language allowed for the auto industry to keep their service drives open for business, along with parts and repair businesses, there wasn’t specific language to address sales and leasing operations. At the state level, many dealers found themselves with their hands tied and specifically restricted to operate in a service and maintenance capacity only. Many of the auto trade groups jumped to quickly send official letters of request to the White House, President Donald Trump, and the Department of Homeland Security asking for revised language in support of auto sales. The National Automobile Dealers Association and American Truck Dealers, along with others, including the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers, National Independent Automobile Dealers Association, and the American International Automobile Dealers Association lobbied intensely on behalf of nationwide dealers.

The New Language in the Latest Essential Business Update

Auto sales are now officially being listed as an essential service during the Coronavirus pandemic. The language has been revised to now include “workers critical to the manufacturing, distribution, sales, rental, leasing, repair, and maintenance of vehicles.” It also includes granted environments beyond the retailer showrooms, including EV charging station maintenance, travel related to supply chains for the industry, as well as necessary travel for the essential workers within these segments. Christopher Krebs, the director of the agency, was quoted, “Based on the feedback we received, we released version 3.0 of the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers Guidance.” He goes on to share the agency’s efforts to provide some clarity regarding a wide range of positions, that in fact, are needed but were not explicitly outlined in the original version of the guidelines.

What this Means for Your Dealership Sales Operations

The auto industry may have won the battle on this front. Still, it’s important to note the latest revision to include sales as an essential operation is only a guideline recommendation. It’s not intended to be a federal mandate, and the decision to allow sales in your store lies within your state and local mandates. For those dealers without current government restrictions at the state level, this means sales and leasing are essential. For those dealers who are currently being limited by their state governments, in managing the public health and safety within their region, this Washington revision may only support you in your state-level requests for change.

With the recent news of various parts of the country entering into Phase 1 of the gradual reopening of businesses, it’s a good sign that many dealers are approaching complete operational authorization very soon. To make sure your store is ready to reopen, make sure you have steps carved out for health and safety best practices for any visiting customers. Also, be ready to continue engaging customers remotely and digitally. The businesses may be ready to open again, but there may be segments of the consumer audience who are not yet ready to abandon their social distancing. Being prepared to accommodate both types of customers will help enhance your dealership’s rebound performance.