Car crunch: dealers having supply issues

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While getting inventory is difficult, both the Chev and Ford dealers in the region say demand is still strong.

Service departments still booming

Alex Kurial/Local Journalism Initiative

Local car dealers are trying to adjust to the COVID-19 realities of lower inventory.
It’s part of a world-wide problem driven by the shutdowns of plants and its delaying the roll out of the 2021 model year.
But local dealers are adjusting.
Ron Clark’s General Sales Manager J.D. Power says under early lockdown measures, temporary layoffs of the sales staff became necessary. Sales took a beating as US plants shut down and supply dried up.
“Our service department was a lot busier,” Power says.
MacFarlane’s Chev General Manager Kristen MacFarlane also says their service department was key in the early stages. “We never saw a lull in service at all,” she says.
This was crucial for business with the showroom closed and some staff being laid off. “Everything had to be done virtually and that honestly doesn’t work in the car business. April was not good,” MacFarlane says.
Ron Clark meanwhile had another boost available thanks to their RV sales. “It’s people not being able to go anywhere and creating their own vacations. We’re seeing customers right now in the RV department that we wouldn’t normally see, just because of the circumstances,” Power says.
As summer progressed and factories reopened, Ron Clark’s backlog started to ease. Power brought back the sales staff and pickup sales bounced back. Power says August was a record month for the dealership.
“It was just a matter of supply and demand. Customers were still in the buying mode,” says Power. “Once we got the product and were able to supply it, customers were waiting to make their purchase.”
The supply fix is temporary however, and by early fall Power expects to be out of new stock again. He says shipments that were supposed to arrive in September may not even come until the new year.
Power says the dealership will focus on used car sales to try and hold them over. Ron Clark Motors also has their service department to rely on.
“Just like everything else we’ll adapt,” Power says.
MacFarlane says their business model has changed drastically since the supply chain was hit. “It’s been pretty challenging selling anything because the manufacturers aren’t up to full capacity at the plants. So we’re not getting the vehicles that we would normally get. Not even close,” says MacFarlane. She estimates they’ve probably received only 20 per cent of their usual stock.
MacFarlane says that when vehicles do arrive, they’ve usually already been sold. That means the traditional browsing of the lot and test drives are largely a thing of the past.
“I wouldn’t say we’re necessarily losing business over it, it’s just a very different way of doing it,” she says. “We have to be on top of calling customers and getting back to customers and keeping them in the loop of how we can help.”
MacFarlane predicts that this experience may be the future of consumerism for a long time. “I think you’re going to see the supply and demand really change,” she says. “You get into those big plants where they’ve got 1,000 people working, and if the government continues to mandate the rules and regulations like they have been, they can’t get back up to normal capacity. It’s physically impossible for them to produce what they were producing before.”
Like Ron Clark, MacFarlane will also be investing in used car sales. But even there, supply will be an issue. “Big fleet companies like Enterprise, if they’re not getting new vehicles, they’re not turning those vehicles (over), so they’re not coming back through the auction,” MacFarlane says.
“They have no choice but to hold onto them because they can’t replace them,” she says.
At the end of the day MacFarlane credits the dealership’s ties to the community for helping keep business steady.
“We’re surviving and we’ll continue. We’ve been here a long time which I think is a bonus because people are still calling and we’re still getting them in here,” she says.