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How the Westchester Auto Industry Is Weathering COVID-19

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While much focus has been, fairly, placed on Westchester’s restaurant, retail, and healthcare industries since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, certain essential services have had to persist on to serve the community without nearly as much attention.

Our economy chugs on. Residents still go to work and that means many of us are still on city streets and highways, and that means we still need to buy, lease, and service our vehicles, even if we’re trying to leave the house as little as possible. To see how Westchester’s dealerships and service centers are responding to and innovating around the health crisis, we sat down (virtually) with two major area auto group leaders: Megan Leone, Marketing Manager for Pepe Auto Group, and Augie DiFeo, President of White Plains Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram.

 

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Obviously, these days fewer people are on the roads, but transportation is still very much essential for everyone from frontline workers to suburban residents just looking to get groceries. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your sales and what are you doing to make sure Westchester residents can still buy or lease a car if they need one, while still maintaining the safety of your employees and customers?

Megan Leone (PAG): “The last few weeks presented challenges none of us ever thought we’d face. Our essential employees are here, at work. Our staff is what makes the Pepe Auto Group what it is today, and we truly have the most hard-working employees; we’re so grateful for them. Their safety is our top priority. 

“You do not have to come into the dealership to purchase or lease a vehicle: our sales team is working remotely and is available to assist you. We’ve implemented new digital technologies to better serve you where you can now shop 100% online, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at your convenience. It’s a new, safe and simple way to buy a car. 

“We believe that it’s essential to give our community the tools they need to continue living a safe, healthy and efficient life as well as provide a sense of ‘normality’ to our community in a time as troubling as this. Online car buying is, in fact, the new way to buy a car, and we’ve made sure we’re equipped with the tools needed to make that possible for our clients.

“Our physical showrooms are not currently staffed. We offer appointments for those customers that need to see a vehicle before making a final purchase decision — all vehicles are disinfected prior to a customer seeing it, and our facilities are constantly being cleaned. At time of purchase, all paperwork is handled in a carefully controlled and sanitized environment.”

Augie DiFeo (WP CJDR): This is the very reason that service was deemed essential. We are performing but in a limited way. Another factor is that factory parts are delayed or not available due to shutdowns. Again, a tough pill to swallow for us and our customers.

“Sales has dramatically been impacted and we are hoping to function 30% to 40% of our normal capacity in May. Again, as per New York State orders our showroom is currently closed, and we are assisting customers by appointment only and the transactions are done remotely.

“The current CARES program offering assistance to businesses to offset payroll, health coverage, and rent, plus a few other costly items has been a tremendous relief. Although the program has some clarity issues, it can be a tremendous relief over an 8 week period.”

 

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While we might be inclined to put off a tune-up or oil change, how are you making sure your service centers can still provide customers with necessary repairs and maintenance?

ML: “We’re taking all precautions during this time to ensure a safe environment for our staff and our customers. You will see employees in our dealerships are all wearing masks and our facilities are constantly being cleaned, for all our safety. We offer pick up and drop off of your vehicle if you don’t feel comfortable leaving your home. And in several of our stores, customers can now check themselves in for service, further reducing person to person contact.”

AD: “We are staffed to handle the current flow of customers requiring service. One of the big pitfalls has been delayed or no availability of parts orders, due to the shutdown.”

What kind of financial incentives are being offered right now for customers who need a new vehicle but are worried about financial uncertainty?

ML: “We know this is a financially difficult time for so many people and we’d like to help as best we can. Some manufacturers are offering payment deferrals and special financing rates for existing and new customers to help with financial hardships. Visit our websites or call us with any questions regarding our current incentives.”

AD: “We have some excellent offerings that are unique to this time — among them 0% loans on select models for up to 72 months; this can save customers significant interest expense. We have employee pricing for Wrangler and Gladiator models, which has never happened before, and of course we have spectacular lease offerings on most of our lineup. Finally, there is a payment deferral of 120 days.

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