Page 54 - BusinessWest February 17, 2021
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for people to start thinking about spring and new beginnings.
This year, they may be especially clamoring for spring; on top of the normal winter dol- drums, everyone has endured nearly a year of pandemic disruption and isolation. In that envi- ronment, auto dealers expect plenty of pent-up demand.
Rolling Along
Each of the dealers who spoke with Business- West shared his thoughts on why people con- tinue to buy cars during the pandemic.
Those who did not suffer a job loss due to COVID-19 were able, in many cases, to increase their savings. After months of staying inside people, Lewis said, people started doing the math and realized that, with used-car values remaining high, they could trade up to a newer vehicle without spending lots of money.
“They capitalized on it, we capitalized on it, and everybody’s happy,” he added.
Sarat talked about customers who canceled vacations that involved air travel but still want- ed to get away. “Several customers told me they were buying vehicles just so they could drive to their vacation,” he said.
While zero-percent interest rates across the industry have helped reluctant buyers, Rome said a job-assurance program gave Hyundai customers more comfort about making a pur- chase. “Through this program, if you buy a car and lose your job, Hyundai will make your pay- ments for up to six months.”
He also believes battling COVID fatigue played a role in many vehicle-purchasing deci- sions. “People started realizing that life is short,
and this might be a good time to do something nice for themselves.”
The pandemic has produced an interest- ing economic situation in which many home- owners made big investments in their homes, resulting in an extremely successful year for construction and landscape con-
tractors. Sarat reaped the benefit of
the contractors’ good fortune in his commercial-truck business. Contrac-
tors tend to replace their vehicles
in December to obtain a tax credit
against their income for the year,
so it’s not unusual to see more sales
activity then. Thus, the boom in
home improvements in 2020 con-
tributed to record sales in December
for Sarat.
“We sold twice as many Super
Duty trucks than a normal Decem-
ber,” he said. “Contractors were
replacing vehicles and, in some cases, adding to their fleet.” Super Duty trucks are a popular choice among contractors because they can be adapted to a variety of trade professions.
While online shopping and purchasing a vehicle are not new, the pandemic brought out more people interested in using this no-touch approach to buying. Before the pandemic, Lewis noted, nearly 45% of his business was generated from the internet, where customers would do their research online, then come in for a test drive before buying the car. Since the pan- demic, that’s increased to 70%.
“What’s different now is that people are taking delivery of vehicles they’ve never seen or have driven,” he said, adding that custom-
ers who do this are relying on the brand’s reputation.
Website upgrades since the pandemic allow Rome’s customers to complete their entire vehi- cle purchase online. From figuring out the value of a trade-in to applying for credit, the entire
“Once the factories were up and running again, around May or June, our inventory started to build back up, and it continues to build. Believe it or not, 2020 was our best year ever.
purchase or lease can be generated online and finished off with an electronic signature. “We will even bring the car to your home to test drive if you want,” he added.
Before internet research, the average cus- tomer would visit three or four dealers before purchasing a vehicle. Sarat cited industry statis- tics showing that customers now visit, on aver- age, only 1.3 dealers before making a purchase. “Because they’ve done the research online, they’ve usually made a decision on what they want to buy before they even come in.”
Shifting Gears
For several years, buying trends have shifted away from passenger cars and toward SUVs and
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