October 22, 2021

Auto sales sputtering

People buying fewer cars amid virus, but shops still open

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

Noah Darling of Virgil cleans a piece of equipment for a brake job Monday at Dovi Motors on Tompkins Street in Cortland. The coronavirus pandemic makes shopping for vehicles in person difficult, but dealerships can still provide maintenance and repairs.

With the coronavirus pandemic pushing more people out of work and off the road, car sales in the greater Cortland area are decreasing.

At Dovi Motors on Tompkins Street in Cortlandville, co-owner Jesse Dovi said sales have been down “about 35% to 40%.”

And he’s had to change how the company sells vehicles.

“We are doing a lot of remote selling,” Dovi said Monday.

It’s not a switch that is entirely new for the company, though. Dovi said the company began upgrading its website about 10 years ago to allow for more remote selling of vehicles, enabling a prospective buyer to view information on the vehicle and even calculate payments.

“Over the last 10 years we’ve done more and more,” he said. “We’ve designed our website to be more conducive.”

Nationwide, dealers can expect to have fewer vehicles to sell, too, at least for a while. Auto plants across the nation shut down, putting 235,000 people out of work. The companies have announced plans to resume manufacturing and assembly in early May — between May 4 and May 8 — but the United Auto Workers has said it’s too soon to safely resume work.

Still, once shoppers at Dovi see cars they are interested in online, they call and talk to someone.

“There’s a lot more emailing of documents back and forth,” he said.

When the person decides what vehicle they want and buys it, they come in and pick it up — all without seeing someone face to face.

Mark McNerney of Jack McNerney Chevrolet in Tully said his company’s car sales have also gone down. Sales have been by appointment only, with staff working from home and scheduling customers to visit. They can still test-drive a vehicle.

“Right now it’s allowed so long as you sanitize the car before and after and you don’t go with them,” he said.

He said it’s been going well even though “this is all new ground for us.”

One area that is still doing well for both car dealerships is the service department.

“Our body shop and service department have been busy,” McNerney said. “That’s an essential business.”

Dovi said his service department was very busy last month and the beginning of this month, although that’s starting to slow down now.

“The service department is definitely a backbone for us,” Dovi said. “Our goal is to have our service department cover our fixed expenses.”

Right now he said the department covers about 75% of the company’s fixed expenses.

“We’re hoping this doesn’t drag on too much longer,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.