A look back at history reveals automakers around the world consistently take quick action to support their local communities and country during times of crisis like the one our nation is currently facing. The Coronavirus pandemic and ensuing changes our nation has experienced over the last several months created an environment where few industries demonstrated the remarkable grit witnessed in the automotive sector. There are numerous examples of the lengths that dealers, lenders and OEMs have traveled to get our communities and country on the road to recovery. The innovation and resolve witnessed throughout the automotive sector have made all of us at Flagship proud to be a part of this industry.
In a matter of weeks, dealers completely transformed the automotive purchasing process into a new digitally enabled contactless business model. Dealers emulated and improved upon the services provided by technology-based companies that offer online purchasing. Under these difficult circumstances, dealers established convenient 100% contactless shopping experiences supported by a wide spectrum of financing options. They established additional value by providing standard dealership offerings, such as 30-, 60- and 90-day limited warranties, the ability to offer Certified Pre-Owned vehicles tied to the manufacturer, and a wide array of locally-based and staffed service options.
While employees worked remotely, in-store, or a combination of both, dealers were able to reinvent current services and introduce new products to provide greater customer comfort during the mandated stay-at-home orders. More dealers used virtual walk-arounds, as well as digital menus and documentation in greater numbers. Dealers also introduced new products through accelerated initiatives supported by remote workers. Across the country, dealers established programs to support essential employees within their communities, including offering pick-up and delivery service for vehicle maintenance and repairs for healthcare, grocery and other vital personnel to keep them on the road. And for customers who prefer to work on their own cars, dealers provided delivery service for required parts directly to the customer’s home.
Concierge test drives and delivery of vehicles, as well as by-appointment-only showroom visits became part of the new dealer model to protect the health of customers and employees. New sanitation procedures were quickly implemented to disinfect vehicles before and after each test drive. The pick-up and delivery service model offered to essential employees was introduced as a new offering for all customers to further protect everyone’s health.
Dealers didn’t stop there. Across the nation, they created opportunities to support their communities. Vehicle lots were opened to local food banks and other organizations to create convenient collection and distribution locations to provide necessities to struggling families. Blood drives and other events were sponsored to increase community support.
Auto Remarketing highlighted the efforts of a dealer in the Central Savannah River Area – a region of Georgia and South Carolina – that went well beyond what local businesses were doing to support the community. The dealer donated and distributed 11,000 meals to support the local food bank, invited the police and fire departments to receive free sanitization of vehicles, and donated 10,000 masks to the community through efforts with VA hospitals, churches and local charities. To top off the dealer’s community support, it partnered with a New York-based nonprofit to pay off $1.5 million in medical bills for more than 500 families in the region.
Many dealers also introduced programs to assist employees. The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) stated that many dealers provided flexible work hours to help employees who were trying to manage childcare and school schedule changes. According to NADA, many dealers also provided non-management employees with Emergency Supplemental Paid Time Off. These programs provided employees with ten days off at 75% of their pay rate to deal with any type of COVID-19 issue, including having symptoms or caring for a family member. In addition, many dealers provided staff with essential personal protection equipment
In a recent Flagship Dealer survey, 57% of respondents reported having changed their sales and delivery process due to the pandemic. Virtual walkarounds, by-appointment-only showroom visits and increased sanitation of inventory before and following test-drives were among the most common changes. The results confirmed new technologies, processes and procedures utilized in the customer experience were implemented in record time.
These are just a few examples of how the entire automotive segment pulled together to prop up and support the nation, local communities and individuals suffering from the impact of the national pandemic. There are still many unknowns on the road to recovery and we are witnessing signs of improvement. What is clear is that in a manner of weeks, the automotive industry reinvented itself due to the grit and innovation of OEMs, dealers and lenders to once again help the nation and local communities rise to meet any challenges they faced.
President and Chief Operating Officer at Flagship Credit Acceptance