By on April 21, 2020

Don’t expect the Present Year to come close to the sales tallies racked up in 2018 or the year before. No analyst foresees such a scenario; globally, LMC sees auto production taking a 20-percent haircut in 2020.

But the return to normality is underway in the U.S., aided by the federal government’s reopening plan (a set of guidelines to be acted on by individual states), but especially by the realization of governors that car buyers need some way to bring a vehicle home. Michigan, via an executive order, greenlit online sales on April 9th. Now it’s Pennsylvania’s turn.

Under Gov. Tom Wolf’s pandemic-prompted lockdown orders, no form of auto sales went forward over the past month. Dealerships did not appear on the state’s list of essential businesses (excluding the service bay), prompting many new car buyers to flee across the state line. Any direction would do.

New York, New Jersey, and Delaware all allowed online purchasing. Ohio and West Virginia saw no ban of any kind on auto purchases.

On Monday, Wolf relented. Via Senate Bill 841, Pennsylvania will allow “limited car sales and leasing operations through online sales,” though in-person sales and leasing will remain off the table. The hangup was that Pennsylvania law required in-person notarization of the buyer’s signature.

It’s a positive step for the hurting auto industry, as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh rank No. 5 and No. 20 on the list of largest U.S. new vehicle markets.

“Some of them involved in collisions, they really didn’t have the ability to wait a month or six weeks to get a car and it was really creating hardship for many,” one dealer told Pittsburgh Action News 4.

As we told you last week, the decline in U.S. auto sales has stabilized, with the cratering caused by coronavirus lockdown orders not proving as extreme as analysts at J.D. Power expected. Some markets proved resilient, among them Dallas, Phoenix, and Minneapolis, while other large (and hard-hit) areas, like New York City and Detroit, saw their sales fall to zero.

[Image: Jeff Bukowski/Shutterstock]

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7 Comments on “Locked-down State Opens up Online Auto Sales, Nudging Industry in Direction of Recovery...”

  • avatar

    This makes sense since each state has had a different impact and different demographic situations (population density) and totally different virus profiles of infections and deaths. It makes sense to ease things in states with low risk and to get them going while having a set of controls on how to handle testing, masks, and social distance.

    As is the case in how government is structured, having 50 state petri dishes is a wonderful thing – see how things work in each state and the effective parts can be nationalized as needed while mistakes are kept to a minimum.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    It’s a nudge, but an impractical one.

    PA’s stay-at-home rules run at least until May 8th, and I don’t know how you buy a car in-person while social distancing. A mere test drive will cost the dealer $100 in disinfection work, and everyone will need to be masked.

    Only the most desperate car buyers will venture out. The dealers won’t want to indulge tire-kickers, and it will be interesting to see them turn away Bubba who’s wearing a MAGA cap instead of his mask.

    • 0 avatar

      Dealers are desperate period. They don’t care who they sell to, MAGA hat or not, mask or not. My local Toyota dealer called me to remind me about my pending recall, asked me if I want a ride back home or a free rental, tried to sell me service while dropping off the car and while I was there and took a glance at the show room…oh boy. Two days later, I got 3 months free XM radio activated just as a thank you for visiting the dealer ( credit card not required, so no BS automatic billing).

    • 0 avatar

      Dealers will bring cars to customers and many will provide much more pricing and financing information online and over the phone instead of insisting on customers coming into the store. Many states have kept dealers sales departments open successfully. If you’re concerned about safety ask the dealer what they are doing as far as cleaning goes and what their remote test drive and purchase options are.

  • avatar

    “Resilient” is the new byword. (Closely followed by “flexible”.)

    With all the uncertainty floating around, this might not be the best time to set yourself up with a recurring regular ‘reverse’ annuity (aka “car payment”).

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    This is good if know exactly what vehicle you want to buy but I would not buy any vehicle that I have not at least had a test drive of a like model. If I had test driven a particular model then I would use this method of buying but I would want to do comparison shopping between dealers and since I am a Costco member have Costco give me a price as well.

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