Car dealerships adjust to altered business model

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — It’s been little more than three weeks since car dealerships in Hawaii were allowed to resume sales under new guidelines.

It’s difficult to say how well sales are going since dealers only report new registrations each quarter, and DMVs have been closed.

Based on those KHON2 has spoken with it’s safe to say every one of the 70 dealerships statewide is still adjusting to their new normal.

After being forced to sit in park with the emergency brake on for more than six weeks, car dealers are slowly ramping back up.

“Looking back from when we first went into the stay at home order back in mid march compared to that it’s like night and day,” said Tony Group CEO Stan Masamitsu

The Tony Group is one of the largest car dealers in the state with five different brands at their Waipio Autoplex.

While business is far from what is was just three months ago, he says it’s great to be back.

“Everybody is back to work,” Masamitsu said. “There is activity in the store. I think people are just happy to be out of the house and back to some sense of normalcy both from as a work standpoint as well as people buying and servicing their vehicles.”

But while sales are accelerating, there is still uncertainty.

While the federal government declared car sales as essential at the beginning of the pandemic, Hawaii’s four counties each set their own guidelines.

The head of the Hawaiian Auto Dealers Association Dave Rolf says, “New car dealerships in these counties have adapted with new procedures, while closely observing the CDC guidelines and state and county emergency orders.”

Among those procedures is a sales by appointment only approach.

Masamitsu says because more technology has been implemented over the past several years, the transition to the new rules is easier

“So it’s just accelerated the process,” Masamitsu added. “A lot more things are going online. So the appointment part is not a huge deal.”

What is a bigger deal he says Is letting a potential buyer take off off solo in a brand new car for a test drive.

“It’s been interesting because it goes against everything we were trained to do,” Masamitsu said. “We actually have to tell them no we cannot go with you. Ha ha.”

While you can pretty much build and buy a car on-line from most dealerships these days Masamitsu says in the auto business personal relationships are still key.

“It matters,” said Masamitsu. “When they’re such a large purchase or investment I think the relationship of the trust really matters, and perhaps because you don’t see the person as much maybe it matters more.”

Masamitsu says he’s heard from more than a handful potential new car buyers who say they’re in the market now because they want their own space. As he puts it a desire for social distancing on four wheels.

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