Despite COVID-19, auto dealers see driving sales |

Despite COVID-19, auto dealers see driving sales

Preowned cars for sale on the lot at Victory Motors in early March. (Max O’Neill / Craig Press)

As many businesses and industries across the country struggled to find a way through an economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic, car dealerships experienced some of those same hardships, especially three local dealerships in Victory Motors, Cook Chevrolet, and Cook Ford.

According to tax returns from the city of Craig, in a city sales tax analysis, it was determined that the three local dealerships had a 1% decrease in vehicle sales and service from 2019 to 2020, for a total loss of $2,376. The dealerships also saw a decrease of $14,588 from 2018 to 2020. There was however a 13% increase in vehicle parts sales from 2019 to 2020. The dealerships saw an increase of $30,249 in 2020.

The Cook dealerships saw a sharp decrease in sales during the start of COVID-19 in the spring of 2020. However, sales increased towards the end of the year, owner of Cook Chevy and Ford, Scott Cook said.

The biggest thing that affected the auto manufacturing industry was the slow down and shut down of factories, as well as the fact that some factories pivoted into making essential items like ventilators for hospitals. However, the sales over 2020 and into 2021 have been even for Cook Chevrolet.

That is a possible cause for the lack of sales for local dealerships, Cook Chevrolet salesman Leon Harrington said.

“The manufacturers back in the spring of 2020 were not building the vehicles, they needed to be building because of their restrictions on employees. A lot of them were building ventilators instead of vehicles,” Harrington said. “So we are not receiving the vehicles we should’ve received, we didn’t receive them last fall and it is going to take a long time to refill the pipeline.”

The slowdown in production on cars and the computer chips that go into modern day cars has been an issue for local dealerships.

“The other thing going on right now is new car inventory. We have probably 75% or 80% less new car inventory than we normally have, and part of that is caused by COVID,” Cook said. “But part of that is caused by a shortage of computer chips and I don’t really know when that is going to be solved. We are ordering a lot of sold orders for people because there is no inventory anywhere.”

One of the contributing factors of the slowdown was the unfortunate timing of a strike by the United Auto Workers at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, which ended in early January.

“I’ll tell you what happens, GM had a strike that lasted for almost two months right before COVID hit last year. So, they didn’t make anything for basically two months, when everything was on strike. So, they had just gotten back to work when coronavirus hit and then it slowed everything down,” Cook said. “I mean the computer chips are the biggest problem of trying to get things going the way they used to be. But there are a lot of supply chain issues now, there are some parts that are taking a long time to come in. I’m not sure when that will be handled.”

The one area that Cook Chevy has seen an increase in purchases though are in their used vehicles because people are unable to get new cars, especially those that have off road capability. While the highest sellers for Victory, are all terrain vehicles, including Ram trucks and Jeep vehicles.

“It fits our market profile. A lot of farmers for ranching, a lot of people need four-wheel drive vehicles, and quite frankly those are two great products that are available and the public acceptance has been outstanding of those two products,” Victory Motors owner Steve Maneotis said.

As cases of COVID-19 have dropped, dealerships are hoping to see more people come through the door. That includes Harrington and Cook Chevrolet.

“Well, I hope it gets more people out, it affects people’s happiness and they want to get out and support the local community more,” Harrington said.

The drop in cases is something that makes Maneotis excited for the community and for his business.

“That’s a positive. It’s always nice to see that our general area is trending in the right direction as far as getting healthy people back and fewer COVID cases,” Maneotis said. “That’s a plus.”

One of the interesting things that Cook Chevy offers customers is an ability to shop from home instead of coming into the dealership. That service, called appropriately, “shop from home” has been used a lot during the pandemic, but is also expected to stay the same according to Harrington.

“Yes we do, more people shop from the comfort of their home right now,” Harrington said. “I think it will stay generally about the same, most people enjoy looking at it from home, doing their research before they come out to look at the car in person.”

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