Local auto dealers adjust during pandemic

Local auto dealers adjust during pandemic

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While the showrooms may be closed, new and used car dealers are being careful and creative about selling cars and trucks remotely as the state continues to grapple with the pandemic.

After being classified as a non-essential business and closed, dealerships are asking that automotive sales be reconsidered as “essential.”

The state Department of Economic and Community Development has received more than 900 requests from businesses, including car dealerships, asking to be reconsidered, a spokesman said.

Despite the non-essential designation, the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association was able to negotiate more accommodations than dealers in other states, where car and truck sales are completely shut down.

“They are allowing us to sell cars, curbside or home delivery,” said Gregory Harte, a principal with Harte Auto Group, which has dealerships in Meriden, Wallingford, Orange and Hartford. “The customer calls or emails us. If the customers want to test drive a car, they can come to us and go for a test drive. The manager sits in the back seat. We use germ-free wipes to wipe the car in front of them and we wipe again when we’re done. We’re taking all those measures.”

Gov. Ned Lamont’s March 22 executive order says that non-essential retailers may be staffed on-site, provided they only offer remote ordering — phone, internet, mail, dropbox— and curb-side pick-up or delivery. Lamont’s order designated automotive repair, roadside assistance and towing essential services.

The state and National Automotive Retailers Association are lobbying to have sales reclassified as essential.

“We are working on nurses’ cars, family cars,” Harte said. “Your sense of security is your car. What if the car is over 200,000 miles? That happens everyday. It’s important to let consumers know they can buy a car right now.” 

Car dealerships have been given some leeway from financial lenders on paperwork requirements and can now use electronic signatures and other remote practices to close a sale without having contact. Harte mandates that employees wear protective clothing and masks when making home deliveries, he said. 

“It’ll probably make us better at the end,” Harte said. “It gives us another means of selling in the future. We’re able to keep several more people employed because of it.”

Harte, like other dealers, is looking into the various business assistance programs to help survive the shutdown and assist employees. The dealership is also replenishing its inventory online, where some factory prices are going below wholesale. 

“We just can’t stop our operation or we’ll go broke,” Harte said.

mgodin@record-journal.com203-317-2255Twitter: @Cconnbiz

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