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Central Coast auto sales stall during coronavirus pandemic

Posted at 10:07 AM, Apr 23, 2020

While it is still unclear how long the world health crisis will continue, companies large and small are experiencing change, including the car industry.

Experts say car sales may never be the same again.

In downtown San Luis Obispo, Landis Auto Sales has operated for 37 years. Scott Rosensteel has been owner for the last 10. COVID-19 has devastated business.

"Our sales have basically gone to zero," Rosensteel said. "But that's fine. I understand what we're all going. That just kinda goes with the territory."

Rosensteel remains upbeat, grateful, he says, to be in the community. While his lot only has roughly 15 different used cars, he has found ways to allow people to window shop by placing sheets with the car's information inside the window, more than the usual factory stickers that can be found on newer vehicles.

"Mainly I just wanted people to have an ability to find out about our cars so when that day comes, they'll still have access to that information," he said.

The inventory at Landis can still be found online. More and more, dealerships are embracing online options, including online chat and virtual tours of the lot and vehicles.

"When it comes to online sales, we are seeing exponential growth in online and digital communication with customers" Rhett Ricart said, chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association.

But that hasn't buoyed sales considering the financial squeeze many people are now in. NADA reported business has slumped 70 percent across the country.

"We're talking about a decline like in the '08 recession that had kinda played out over several months, this is happening over a matter of four to five days," Tyson Jominy said, VP of Pin Operations for JD Power. "So the industry really had the wind knocked out of its sales pretty quickly in March."

The latest data from NADA shows all dealerships in California totaled $120 billion in sales, accounting for nearly 260,000 jobs created by dealerships. Economic activity from car dealerships also equal $8.7 billion in state sales tax revenue.

For now, small local operations like Rosensteel will weather the storm.

"I think we're pretty much all in the same situation right now," he said. "We can't wait for the day that where we get back to something approximating normal."

Even with online sales offerings, a new forecast out this week shows auto sales in the U.S. are expected to fall 26% this year to as low as 12.5 million units. That's nearly five million fewer cars than experts forecast at the beginning of the year.