Losing business to nearby states

Heidi Pehl, president of five-rooftop I-5 Cars in Chehalis, Wash., said her dealership group has sold a few vehicles under the limited-sales criteria, including a Toyota truck to a firefighter whose vehicle was totaled.

With 40 percent of her staff laid off, Pehl is hopeful the state will allow more auto sales.

“We absolutely would not jeopardize anyone’s health, including myself and my people that work for me,” she said.

“This is a need. And it goes beyond the dealer. It goes to the city and the counties and the state revenues.”

In Pennsylvania, where there has been confusion among the state’s 880 new-vehicle dealers since Wolf on March 19 ordered the closure of non-life-sustaining businesses, including showrooms, dealers have asked for exemptions to sell vehicles.

Rob Cochran, CEO of the #1 Cochran group with about two dozen rooftops in Pennsylvania, applied for one. He said the state indicated that dealerships could sell online, but sales paperwork requirements can’t be completed online.

He’s hopeful the state and local dealer associations and the legislature will come up with a solution to allow for online sales. Neighboring New York and New Jersey, while under stay-at-home orders, are allowing remote sales and deliveries.

“Online’s a great step and at least gives us an opportunity to take care of the people who are most in need,” Cochran said.

Legislation in the Pennsylvania Senate could allow dealers to finalize a transaction without a physical notary — which is now required — said Brewer, the Pittsburgh-area dealer, who has 22 employees laid off.

Eight members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on March 27 sent a letter to Wolf, asking that he consider allowing auto sales by telephone and online with delivery to customers. A message was left with Wolf’s office seeking comment.

“We are still pushing for all new-car and -truck dealers to have the ability to sell by appointment with proper controls in place,” John Devlin, CEO of the Pennsylvania Automotive Association, said in an email.
Michigan, which in a March 23 order said showrooms had to close, last week gave a small reprieve to dealerships as the state’s stay-at-home order was extended through April. Dealership employees, in an order Thursday, April 9, were included among essential workers and now can conduct remote sales and leases and can deliver vehicles to customers.

Last week, Michigan state Sen. Dale Zorn sent a letter to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asking that she allow dealerships to sell and lease vehicles online.

Zorn, a Republican from Ida, believes the governor’s move will aid consumers and Michigan’s economy.

“It’s going to help our state dealers compete just a little bit with Ohio and Indiana,” Zorn told Automotive News.

“Ohio … has allowed their dealers to remain open, person-to-person contact. And we’re noticing people from Michigan, especially on the border counties, going to Ohio to purchase their vehicles.”