COVID-19 Update: What The Auto Production Halt Means for Dealers

By Desiree Homer

How Dealerships Continue to Connect with Customers

Dealerships nationwide are adjusting their operational procedures. Some states, like California, have enacted ‘shelter in place’ orders. Others are recommending strict safe distancing practices. The big three automakers, and many others across North America, have recently announced production halts due to the pandemic. You may be wondering how long these shutdowns will last and what the effect will be on your dealership. We can’t predict how long these safety practices will last nor what will happen in the coming weeks. But we can share what some retailers are doing now and highlight what’s working, despite mass industry shutdowns.

Playing It Safe

Production lines may have stalled, meaning delays for new model roll-outs, but the objectives are clear – it’s about playing it safe. The plants are using this time to enforce detailed cleaning and disinfecting efforts. Employees may be sent home for now, but the risk of contracting the virus is significantly reduced in doing so. When there are headlines about warehouse workers at Amazon with positive COVID-19 test results, protecting the autoworkers becomes paramount. Sending workers home healthy today means they’ll be ready to return for the anticipated rebound in the weeks to come.

The Explosion of Digital Services

Restaurants not allowed to offer dine-in are now offering delivery and drive-thru services. Coffee shops are open for app ordering, and drive-by pick ups. Independent shop owners that are staying open for now are posting new hours and by-appointment options to help minimize the risk of viral spread. Dealerships not yet ordered to close are doing the same. Carter Myers Automotive in Charlottesville, Virginia, is offering to pick up and drop off customer vehicles for anyone not comfortable with coming in for an oil change or a tire rotation.

Virtual Car Buying

Carter Myers Automotive is adjusting its approach to sales as well as service. In addition to vehicle deliveries, they’re offering virtual test drives. Imagine a sales member face timing with a potential customer during a vehicle walk-through. For those who want to buy, tele-purchasing is available for complete digital transactions. CEO Liza Borches says they’re also extending a three-day return policy at no charge for those remote buying engagements. And it’s working. Borches says the dealer is taking a lot of deliveries, despite the uncertainty in the market right now.

Social Media Is Your Best Customer Touchpoint

Many dealerships are using their social media platforms right now as a primary customer touchpoint. With consumers stuck at home, they’re spending even more time scrolling their social media and devices. Promoting and sharing your new hours of operations or recently adapted delivery services should be ongoing. You can also describe your efforts in sanitizing steering wheels and gear shifters for those vehicles currently being serviced. Tell customer stories and share any community-based news and efforts.

The production lines may have halted for now, but it may be the best course of action to ensure those workers are healthy for return later. You may have to adjust your operations, but digital sales and service right now are proving lucrative for many dealers. Stay connected ongoing with your increased social media audience. Being a source of information and assistance now will be remembered later.