Car dealers are happy 2020 is nearing an end, but are thankful the year ended better than expected with the coronavirus pandemic raging.
“I can honestly tell you I have done quite well. I did better at one store than last year and about the same at the other,” said Greg Sweet, owner of Greg Sweet Chevrolet Buick in Conneaut and Greg Sweet Ford in North Kingsville.
Inventory was a major issue for car dealers across northeastern Ohio.
“We couldn’t get product. I had customers that waited 10 months,” Sweet said.
“We just made it up with used cars,” Sweet said.
Bill Panzarella, operations manager for Great Lakes Auto, said his three stores concentrated on the safety of employees and customers and adjusted to new business practices including online shopping and home delivery.
He said the organization that operates Great Lakes GMC Buick in Ashtabula Township, Great Lakes Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in Kingsville Township, and Great Lakes Chevrolet in Jefferson were happy they didn’t have to lay off any employees.
“We did have to change our business practice [and] that will probably last forever,” Panzarella said. He said the dealership installed plexiglass wherever customers might be for more than 30 seconds.
“We don’t go on test drives with customers anymore. We just try to separate people,” he said.
Panzarella said the home delivery option has not picked up like dealerships close to major cities.
Panzarella said new and used car inventory became an issue that quickly drove used car values up.
“It’s [inventory] getting better, but it is just starting to get better,” he said.
Marybeth Nassief, the owner of Nassief Auto Group, said changing business practices were definitely a part of doing business in 2020.
“Overall, our staff adapted quickly to the safety guidelines and our customers feel safe coming in or allowing us to pick up their vehicles for service work,” Nassief said
Sweet said Ohio’s decision to designate car dealers as essential was a big help. He said customers came from New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan, whose dealerships were not deemed essential, this year.
Sweet said customers from all three states bought cars at his dealerships.
Jack Scott, of Midway Chevrolet in Orwell, said it was a challenging year, but reinforced the issue regarding the availability of vehicles.
“The biggest issue was getting inventory,” he said.
Car dealers also credited company rebates with keeping car sales rolling along.
“GM really stepped up our rebates,” Scott said.
Nassief said low-interest rates and low gas prices have continued to drive auto sales and cooperation with dealerships was helpful in continuing that trend. She said Nassief Toyota worked with other dealers by trading cars to keep up with demand during the worst stages of the pandemic.
Nassief said she sees continued strong sales in 2021 with the low-interest rates and gas prices continuing.
“[It] also appears driving will continue to be most people’s choice over flying for the near future,” she said.