The changing car sales procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic just might be the new way of doing business one Ellensburg sales manager said.

Car buyers are always welcome, but the days of strolling around, getting in and out of cars, and touching the interior are suspended as dealers hustle to figure out how to safely sell and service vehicles while several showrooms across the country are closed.

But the less personal more online business application, credit check, e-signature has its advantages Windy Chevrolet sales manager Jordan Booth said.

“I have a feeling this is going to be the new normal going forward and we’re adapting to it very well,” Booth said. “Anymore people are very savvy. People are looking on the internet. They’re doing their homework.

“They’re looking at the Kelley Blue Book or the Carfax and all that type of stuff. I believe it actually makes the process a lot more streamlined.”

Ellensburg auto dealers say they are doing their part with all COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. They were literally shut down in April and just opened under the new guidelines in May.

“As far as the internet traffic, there’s no doubt that’s up because there’s more people at home on their computers,” said Kelleher Motor Co. general sales manager Andy Dicken said. “Right now, the showroom is not open to the public. We’re operating on appointment only.

“Customers have to know what they want and be a qualified buyer. That’s been the challenge. You almost have done the entire deal over the phone. As long as everything checks out, we set an appointment for them to come down and do the test drive.”

The face-to-face part of buying a new or used car has been changing for some time, but even in the face of the pandemic, the auto industry continues to march on. Kelleher’s Dicken said the used car lot is a little busier than people looking for a car right off the line, but they are staying busy. They also have a set of guidelines to help keep staff and customers alike safe.

Over at Windy Chevrolet, they are using touchless thermometers as customers come into the showroom, limiting the number in the showroom. Sales staff wears gloves and a mask in approaching customers on the lot and lets them know they can assist any questions they might have inside.

“It’s actually not as bad as I thought it might be. We had 38 employees, sales staff, service etc. before all of this. We have about nine now,” said Booth, whose company expects to sell 60 cars (45 used, 15 new) this month. “All of my people use gloves and masks. We sanitize every vehicle before and after each test drive, so we’re keeping everything sanitized as much as possible.”

General Motors has a plan called shop, click, drive. Dealers are delivering vehicles, with paperwork that was approved by the customer over the phone, leaving only the signatures to complete the transaction.

With many new rules in place these days, you should be able to easily find out about car buying and repair center protocols with a quick call or online check. Despite people driving less under the current stay at home orders, car sales are expected to endure the crisis.

“On the business side, the part of sitting down with the customer to close is gone,” Dicken said. “If they want to drive it, that’s great. But then we sent them a credit application via email, we talk over the phone and they come in to sign the paperwork or we do e-sign.

“It’s still early on and not all of the lenders are doing it, but e-sign is pretty simple. Right now, you just don’t know so you have to be ready for anything.”

According to J.D. Power, new car sales in April were off by 45 percent compared to 2019. Their research shows that 445,600 fewer new cars were sold nationwide in April compared to their sales forecast. Sales so far in May are off 27 percent from the research company’s pre-virus forecast.

Used-car prices could plunge more than 15 percent as demand for vehicles nose dives, which is more than prices fell in the last recession a decade ago, according to JPMorgan. The price drop will also be fueled by a flood of used vehicles for sale from rental-car fleets, JPMorgan said. Currently, thousands of rental-car fleets are sitting idle as travelers stay home.

Third-generation owner Justin Seth with Seth Motors said his auto repair business has had to make some adjustments with ongoing handwashing and sanitation on high surface spots. But other than that, it’s been business as usual.

His guys are wearing masks and gloves, but their business is away from the general public, so it’s more of a matter of sanitizing the vehicle when to the work is done.

“We never did have to shut down. Businesses has been OK,” Seth said. “The changes were mostly on the customer-service side. The people we serve are used to the same service they’ve seen with my grandpa and my dad, and now me. Sometimes you have to make some changes to the way you do things and that’s a good thing.”

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