Baton Rouge auto dealers cut back hours, push online services as new car sales drop

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Though car dealerships have been exempted from the statewide stay-at-home order that went into effect Monday evening, Baton Rouge area auto dealers say new car sales have fallen since last week as fewer people leave their houses.

While it’s too soon to know exactly how much they’ve dropped, sales are down across the state, says Will Green, president of the Louisiana Automobile Dealers Association, as dealers work with skeleton crews.

“We’re expecting to see a slowdown now,” says Matt McKay of All Star Automotive Group, who’s seen a 20% dip in sales so far. “We’re already seeing phone calls slow down.”

Like most local dealers, McKay plans to keep his dealership and service area open, but is scaling back on their hours of operation.

Team Honda is cutting several hours off the times its sales and service departments will be open, says owner Preston Q=Petersen. The sales department will now be open between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. (as opposed to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.), while the service department will operate between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. (as opposed to 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.)

To comply with social distancing recommendations, Q=Petersen says he’s started implementing split shifts, wherein one team works a certain schedule, and the other team works a different schedule.

“We’re still selling cars every day, but it’s slower and we’re trying to be more accommodating to customers if they don’t want to come in,” says Q=Petersen, whose sales are down some 30% this week. “We can go to them, and we’re also doing more digital sales transactions to shorten up the time it takes to complete a sale.”

Seeing a roughly 15% to 20% dip in new car sales this week, Eric Lane of Gerry Lane Enterprises says he has also begun ramping up his dealership’s online presence, allowing customers to do all their financing online. Additionally, Gerry Lane is offering pickup and delivery services for cars that customers might not be comfortable driving to the dealership.

“I don’t think [this slowdown] will last as long for the auto industry as everyone’s prognosticating,” says Lane, who’s monitoring the tax credits and SBA loan program included in the planned $2 trillion stimulus package. “People’s transportation is principal right now.”

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