October 19th, 2020

Auto dealers feeling pain of COVID-19 crisis


By Beeber, Al on April 4, 2020.

Dealer principal Luke Davis of Subaru of Lethbridge poses in the redesigned 2020 Subaru Outback, a car that hit showrooms earlier this year before the COVID-19 crisis ramped up in Canada. Herald photo by Al Beeber

Al Beeber

Lethbridge Herald

abeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

With the city slowing to a standstill because of the COVID-19 crisis, auto dealers are still rolling along trying to help people with service and sales needs.

But they are also taking precautions to ensure the safety of their staff and customers.

Two city dealerships contacted by The Herald this week said they are adapting to the new and dangerous world we now call home.

Dealer principal Luke Davis of Subaru Lethbridge said customers who visit the dealership just off the Crowsnest Trail must first stop at a hand-sanitizing station before proceeding into the sales and service areas.

Both customer and staff numbers are being limited in the showroom at any one time. In parts and service, one customer and one technician are allowed to be present at one time.

The dealership has been forced to reduce staffing numbers but because car dealerships are considered an essential service, Subaru can remain open.

The dealership has started a job-sharing program with its sales staff whose hours have been cut in half and four people have been laid off elsewhere in the store.

Its vehicle technicians are all spread out in their department and make sure certain components vehicles are sanitized before working on them, including keys, gear shift levers and door handles. Technicians also wear gloves at all times. The dealership also offers a drop-box for customer keys and a shuttle service but customers using it must sit in the backseat of the vehicle.

Davis himself has taken precautions to ensure staff safety by staying home for 12 days after he caught a cold.

Subaru Lethbridge is part of the Davis Auto Group which own multiple stores in Alberta including Davis Buick GMC in Lethbridge as well as two dealerships in Fort Macleod and others in Medicine Hat, Claresholm, Okotoks, Brooks and Airdrie.

Management of stores keep in regular contact, discussing safety protocols as they try best to get through the COVID-19 crisis.

In total, the group has been forced to lay off “a couple hundred people” because of COVID-19, said Davis.

The timing couldn’t be worse for dealerships with spring arriving. After typical January and February doldrums, March is a month when buyers start returning to showrooms.

“We had a really good start, then the world stopped in its tracks,” said Davis.

Shane Mazutinec of Lethbridge Hyundai said that dealership is also ensuring safety of customers and staff. Owned by Calgary’s Renfrew Auto Group since last year, it also has been forced to reduce staff but is keeping its doors open to customers for their service needs and sales.

“We’re open and doing the very best we can,” said Mazutinec.

Staff at the dealership, also located in the Crowsnest Auto Mall, regularly disinfect the store as well as vehicles and keys that are dropped off.

“We’re doing it to the highest level,” said Mazutinec, whose staff are trying to “understand the unfamiliar world” we have now.

Only one or two customers are being allowed in the store at a time and are required to follow safe-distancing protocols, he said. They are greeted by a sanitizing station and rubber gloves, which customers appreciate, Mazutinec said.

Before dealing with customers who come in for repairs, service advisers ask them a series of questions including about their awareness of COVID-19 and their health.

“We’re not putting employees at risk,” he said. “We’re asking for honesty and 99 per cent of people are honest,” he added.

“Customers appreciate the steps we take.”

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