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Sales at Vidmar Honda at 600 N. Albany Ave. during May exceeded those of the previous two months. [PHOTO BY JAMES BARTOLO]

Local car dealerships are first to see resurgence following COVID-19 shutdown

COVID-19 has brought with it an economic downturn, but recent success at Pueblo’s car dealerships may provide insight to the city’s path toward recovery.

“The car dealerships, the automotive industry on a whole: parts, service and sales contributes significantly to sales tax revenue for the city,” said Mark Aliff, car manager for Vidmar Honda. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”

Aliff is also in a unique position putting Pueblo’s economy back on track sitting on city council. The city is expected to take sales losses of around $10 million in 2020. In March, the city was already down $600k is sales tax revenue from pre-COVID projections.

Vidmar Honda’s total sales for May exceeded those for the two previous months combined, Aliff said. June is expected to yield similar results. The increase in customers is in part due to automobile manufactures’ push to lower interest rates during March and April.

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“Manufacturers got very aggressive on their incentives and their interest rates and made it very attractive for consumers to come back into the market quickly,” Aliff said.

Michelle Moreland, co-owner and manager of Southwest Motors, also took notice of the growth in sales at her dealership. At Southwest Motors, March and April were spent sorting and stocking up on inventory from across the nation. Moreland said the result was a more comprehensive inventory, better pricing and interest rates as low as 2.4 percent.

“Inventories are large, prices are at some of their best as well as interest rates and so we’ve definitely seen an uptick in consumer purchasing and I think that is part of it,” Moreland said. “They are trying to take advantage of what is going on right now in our market. With uncertainty, a lot of times means better prices for the customer.”

Both Vidmar Honda and Southwest Motors reopened doors to customers while putting a number of precautions in place. At the dealerships, furniture and desks are rearranged to be at least six-feet apart. Employees wear masks and gloves when necessary. Touch points are heavily sanitized.

“In terms of the cars themselves, before they ever go on our walk, they are completely detailed,” Moreland said. “Outside, inside, basically every inch of that car is cleaned… If somebody test drives a car and ultimately decides not to purchase that vehicle, our sales staff is responsible for making sure that car is completely cleaned.”

Vidmar Honda implements a similar practice for its test drive vehicles and works to ensure the majority of each transaction is done on “up front,” Aliff said.

“A big advantage of the car business is we could do 99 percent of the deal on the internet while the customer is not in the showroom,” Aliff said. “When they come to the dealership, basically the deal is done. They just got to find the car, review the paperwork and get out of here. It’s really a quick, easy process now.”

Southwest Motors has dedicated two staff members to its internet sales team for customers who may not feel comfortable entering the building. The internet sales team is responsible for helping customers navigate the Southwest Motors website, getting them pre-approved for financing, and delivering the vehicle if requested.

“We are still depending heavily on that internet team in case people don’t want to come in,” Moreland said. “There are still people in our community who don’t want to be out in public but they want to buy a car… We want to make that process as simple for them as possible and make them feel comfortable.”

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