Several auto dealerships across the city report a decline in business this spring in the face of international pandemic known as COVID-19, but many remain hopeful they’ll weather the difficult days ahead and continue to provide vehicles for the Killeen area and employment for their staffs.

Fewer people being out because of the risk of COVID-19 has caused a decline in business, according to Killeen Auto Sales general manager Roger Smith, but after more than 35 years at 1006 South W.S. Young Drive, he is optimistic the dealership will bounce back.

“We have had more inquiries online,” Smith said. “Customers are still looking for cars, and they’re still going to buy a car—it’s just going to take a little longer.”

While Killeen Auto Sales has been taking additional cleanliness and safety precautions, they have also altered the way they do business to be more convenient for customers.

“We have even brought cars to people’s home within reason so they can check out the vehicle without having to get out in public,” Smith said. “All of our inventory is online.”

Smith said another safety precaution they’ve implemented is not shaking hands with their customers.

“After 27 years in the business, this is the hardest thing I’ve had to do,” Smith said.

So far, they haven’t had to lay off any employees, he said.

“We’re keeping everyone here,” Smith said. “But they’re here on a volunteer basis. If they feel like they need to be home with their families, they don’t have to come in.”

Smith said they are down to half of their normal staff. Those who choose to stay home do so without pay, he said.

“As far as I know, until congress passes a bill, there will not be any assistance for essential businesses that are able to keep open,” Smith said.

A significant number of states have taken emergency action to force the closure of businesses deemed “nonessential,” according to the National Automobile Dealers Association website.

Given the lack of uniformity in how states have classified dealership sales, service and parts operations, the association has specifically requested that the federal government ensure consumers have access to safe and operational vehicles by considering vehicle repair, maintenance and sales facilities as essential operations when federal, state and local officials impose certain requirements due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“Given the importance of safe transportation in addressing the coronavirus outbreak, we have an obligation to ensure that motor vehicles remain safe and are properly maintained,” according to a statement released by the NADA on behalf of president and CEO Peter Welch and Automotive Innovation President and CEO John Bozzella. “To that end, it is vital that vehicle repair, maintenance and sales facilities be considered essential operations when federal, state and local officials impose certain requirements due to the coronavirus outbreak.”

Auto dealerships and repair companies in Killeen have been deemed essential, Smith said.

Platinum Autoplex at 217 W. Veterans Memorial Blvd. has also been able to retain all of their staff, according to office manager Michelle Mobley.

“We definitely haven’t had to lay anybody off yet, we have however for this time of year had a steep decline in business,” Mobley said. “We have hand sanitizer at the top and we wipe stuff down. We’re not using gloves or masks or anything.”

New car franchises are also doing well, said Austin Bitner, the general manager of All-American Chevrolet of Killeen, at 1802 E. Central Texas Expressway.

“We haven’t seen a decline; if anything, we’ve actually seen an increase in new car purchases,” Bitner said. “Part of that comes from a manufacturer’s support.”

Manufacturers offering 84 months at 0 percent interest or 120 days until the first payment is due, usually increases sales, Bitner said.

“People always look to take advantage of that,” Bitner said. “On the pre-owned side, I think that we’ve seen a decrease and a lot of that probably comes from the uncertainty that is flowing around.”

Manufacturers have come out with some great deals to entice the reluctant people who were thinking of buying to buy, agreed Mitch Connell, owner Dodge Country located at at 1902 E. Central Texas Expressway.

Connell said he’s striving to stay optimistic.

“I have roughly 150 mouths to feed in my organization, Connell said. “We’re trying to gather up enough revenue to ensure they all get paychecks so they can feed their families.”

While he hasn’t had to lay off any employees, Connell said he hasn’t replaced the natural attrition as people have left the company.

But the impacts aren’t limited to sales and personnel: manufacturers are shifting their focus to help address the crisis, Connell said.

“There’s been a substantial impact on the auto dealership,” Connell said. “Some of the manufacturers have shut down production to produce other more necessary products to help us get through this crisis. Things like masks to help the medical personnel.”

Bitner said he hopes the Coronavirus relief bill being considered in the United States Senate will see an uptake in sales.

Bitner declined to comment on whether All American Chevrolet has had to lay off any employees, but said the company is taking safety precautions to look out for their staff during this crisis.

“We’re doing everything we can to ensure the safety of our employees and their families,” Bitner said. “We’ve been following CDC guidelines really closely. And we’re taking preventative measures to ensure cleanliness to the dealership, offering hand sanitizer encouraging employees to wash their hands.”

Additionally, whenever there is an opportunity to work remotely on jobs such as data entry, employees are encouraged to take advantage of it, Bitner said.


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