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Buying a car in the COVID-19 world is different than what it was just a few months ago

Despite changes and low inventory, sales are coming back strong
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Posted at 6:28 PM, Jun 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-30 18:40:34-04

CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WKBW-TV) — COVID-19 has changed many things in the world, including how you buy a car. "It is a whole new world for our dealers," said Paul Stasiak, President of the Niagara Frontier Automobile Dealers Association (NFADA).

Dealerships must now follow a long-list of health safety rules from New York State that include limits on people in a showroom, how test drives are conducted, and mandates for cleaning cars that are examined by customers.

"It takes a lot of time with a little lesser staff at this point," explained Dean Jackson, General Manager for Keller Chevrolet in Cheektowaga. Jackson said not all of his employees have come back yet because of concerns about the coronavirus.

Keller Chevrolet, like many local auto dealers, is encouraging customers to make an appointment so it can control the number of people inside the showroom at any one time. Jackson told Reporter Ed Reilly that his dealership tries to schedule appointments about an hour apart. Some of that time is needed to clean and disinfect any vehicle a customer sits in or takes for a test drive.

Gone are the days of packed showrooms with lots of people browsing and trying the 'fit" inside a vehicle. Showroom cars are now locked and only opened by salespeople who are responsible for maintaining the vehicle's 'safe clean' status.

Keller Chevrolet offers online buying, which has turned out to be more popular than expected. Jackson said he thinks people are not interested in visiting multiple dealerships and putting themselves at increased exposure to strangers.

Even cars being repaired are treated differently. Keller Chevrolet is wrapping steering wheels and shifter knobs in plastic for cars being serviced.

The pandemic caused the shut down of several auto plants, which is now creating a low inventory of new cars. "We anticipate a little bit of a shortage in new vehicle inventory as we get through the summer months," added Paul Stasiak. "It is just a replenishment. We ask customers to be a patient. They might have to be more flexible on color and options," said Stasiak.

The low inventory of new cars and high demand means you probably won't find any outstanding incentives. But Stasiak said there are still good deals to be had with some excellent financing options such as 0% for 72 and 84 months.

If mid-April 2020, car dealerships were facing dismal sales numbers, said Frank Downing, President of The Towne Auto Group. That has dramatically changed. Downing told Ed Reilly that he is looking at the possibility of having a record June. "Who would have thought?" said Downing.

"Obviously, there is a lot of pent-up demand from the last 90 days," commented Paul Stasiak. Dean Jackson echoed that sentiment; "Car sales are great!"