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America Instantly Collapses When We Can't Buy New Cars

A group of visitors to a Porsche and Audi dealership in Sewickley, Pa. looks over Bob Nikel’s, left, new 2002 Porsche 911 GT2 on Friday, July 19, 2002. Americans’ ravenous appetite for foreign-made cars, TVs and clothes propelled the U.S. trade deficit to a record $37.6 billion in May. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
A group of visitors to a Porsche and Audi dealership in Sewickley, Pa. looks over Bob Nikel’s, left, new 2002 Porsche 911 GT2 on Friday, July 19, 2002. Americans’ ravenous appetite for foreign-made cars, TVs and clothes propelled the U.S. trade deficit to a record $37.6 billion in May. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Photo: AP Images

“I think there’s no reason in the world we shouldn’t be open for sales. It’s a necessity,” PA auto dealership co-owner Donny Pursel told the Reading Eagle. The worst part about it is the guy has a point.

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My old colleague Dan McQuade tweeted out this article, as much a dark comedy as anything else. The main drama is that there are hundreds of dealerships in Pennsylvania and they’ve been shut down as, well, they’re not what you’d rush to call an essential business in the middle of a global pandemic. They are certainly “non-life-sustaining” operations, as PA’s specific wording declares.

But things get complicated from there. Several dealers have been granted exemptions. Some staying open while others are stuck closed isn’t fair. From the Eagle:

John Devlin, president of the Pennsylvania Automotive Association, said he’s aware of about 20 auto dealers across the state that have obtained waivers allowing them to continue selling cars. About 920 have not.

[...]

“Right now we’re focused on how we get all 940 dealers back up and running in a modified way, in a respectful way that’s by appointment only,” Devlin said, explaining that in Pennsylvania you need a “wet signature” done in person to sell a car. “There’s no way to pull the car up, throw the keys on the seat and say goodbye.”

Devlin said that all six states that border Pennsylvania are still allowing car sales by appointment. That puts local dealers at a disadvantage, and could encourage people to travel across state lines to buy.

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These guys do have a point! It’s not fair; either you let everyone sell cars within certain guidelines or no one can do it. But that’s not why the article is interesting. It’s the case that auto dealers could even be essential in any way shape or form:

The simple fact is, Devlin said, having a working vehicle is a necessity for people in most parts of Pennsylvania. They need it to drive to the grocery store, to visit the pharmacy, to get to doctor’s appointments.

And even now, Devlin said, some people find themselves in need.

Like, for example, a woman who contacted Pursel last week. She had totaled her car, and was nearing the end of the span for which her insurance company would pay for a rental. Pursel had to tell her he couldn’t help.

[Tim Profit, the president of Savage Auto Group,] said he was contacted by a man who has a contract with Amazon to deliver packages, an endeavor of growing importance in the age of social distancing. Profit has a van all ready to go for him, but isn’t allowed to sell it because of the governor’s mandate.

I think our site has been pretty good about covering how our economy is tied to buying new cars. We’ve watched the global economy grind into a recession in even pace with auto manufacturing (and car buying) grinding to a halt. But it’s nothing if we leave out how our lives, how our social structures are tied to having cars, too.

I will not stop laughing at the thought of a PA dealer adamant that YES it is ESSENTIAL that my employees still show up for work, but it’s rough to think of how hard our social fabric makes life when dealerships are forced closed.

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.

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DISCUSSION

somberlaine
somberlaine

I sure hope this pandemic pushes dealers to ditch their sales model. Having a customer go to the dealership before they talk numbers just doesn’t work.