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Now What? Capitalizing on the New Normal

For the foreseeable future, organizations will continue to modify their processes to operate safely in a pandemic-sculpted environment. In order to capitalize on new methods and protocols, the first order of business is to identify what will change for franchised dealers and what will stay the same.

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What won’t change? Automobiles will continue as the primary mode of transportation, with franchised and independent dealers being the primary resource for new and used vehicles. Most consumers will look to dealerships to purchase, finance or lease their vehicles and buy optional products to protect themselves against unexpected ownership expenses. 

What’s changing? The U.S. economy and labor market. In my view, the current economy won’t morph into the new normal until early in the fourth quarter. The pundits predict a tepid economy on par with a downturn more severe than the Great Depression of 1929. The good news is that it will last only months, not years, with the state and federal public assistance programs currently in place.  

With echoes of the Civilian Conservation Corps, the federal government spent roughly $3 trillion in CARES relief disbursements, keeping millions of workers on the job. But as of this writing, almost 40 million people had lost their jobs. While logic dictates a significant number will return to work, the new normal will reflect a key lesson learned during the quarantine — that satisfactory results can be achieved with fewer business locations, fewer employees or both. 

What’s changing? The American people. The havoc COVID-19 wrought on our economy and our daily lives inflicted wounds that will leave an indelible scar. It prompted a reordering of priorities — and hopefully a deep-seated awareness of how important it is to have a contingency plan in place to meet basic needs when the unexpected happens.

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The challenge for Americans continues with reductions in employment opportunities and the need to recover from loss of income earmarked to meet personal and family obligations. Equally significant will be long-run consequences, such as the inevitable reductions of government assistance program allocations and likely higher taxes due to a dangerously large national debt. 

What’s changing? How vehicles are sold. Fortunately, the adage “necessity is the mother of invention” — or in this case, innovation — prevails! Vehicle sales and finance processes will change to accommodate two new factors — a different buyer and a digital marketplace.

The continuation of zero-down payment, hyper-extended repayment term programs will help generate early floor traffic for “necessity buyers” whose sole vehicle is on its way to the junkyard. Dealerships will also be welcoming pent-up demand buyers, customers who endured the crisis financially unscathed and are still gainfully employed — and wanted their new set of wheels yesterday.  

The vast majority of Americans have had to address the difference between wants and needs in their daily lives. For many, credit card balances may be at their limit, with some monthly obligations still in arrears. A significantly more cautious and conservative buyer will walk into the showroom and be TO-ed to the financial services office.  

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The most dramatic shift will be in the sales and finance processes. The quarantine demonstrated that the technology and practicality of buying running shoes online works equally well for buying cars from franchised dealers. What was initially a unique and novel car marketing method is becoming a mainstream alternative.

Granted, some of the kinks in the digital process need to be ironed out, such as regulatory compliance for out-of-store transactions, securing signatures and an effective way to present voluntary protection products, among other issues. In my view, digital sales and F&I will be the most significant and enduring contributor to vehicle sales in the new normal in the United States. It’s fast approaching; make sure you’re ready to fully capitalize on the digital marketplace.

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