Lawrence Hall Chevrolet Service Department Becomes More Efficient Because of Covid Pandemic
ABILENE, TX – The world has changed dramatically since COVID-19 arrived in early 2020, and that includes the automotive industry which had to adapt to survive in the unprecedented times. Car dealerships can be considered the most integral part of the vehicle business model.
We got a chance to take a closer look at how COVID affected Lawrence Hall Chevrolet, a local dealership in Abilene, Texas. We had the pleasure of meeting with two of their Service Managers who shared their insight on how their service department was affected by the pandemic. Rick McWhirter, from Lawrence Hall Chevrolet in Abilene, TX, says that service operations have been impacted the most during the past two years. No one knew how things were going to turn out and this went on for about six months.
“It shut our operation completely down,” Rick said. “We saw a lot of canceled appointments. Some people didn’t show up at all. Everybody, just kind of shut down. The whole city of Abilene was shut down.” The situation was the same all over the globe. There was a general decrease in demand due to people not being able to leave their homes and financial disruptions in disposable income.
“It took several months for people to adopt safety measures such as wearing face coverings, that’s when people started coming back to car lots and dealership operations slowly returned to normal,” Rick said. It was difficult though because several employees contracted the virus, which put them on the sidelines until they recovered.
There was also bad news for customers looking to buy new cars. Lawrence Hall had low inventories of new vehicles because General Motors shut down the production of new ones due to a chip shortage. General Motors was not the only company to be troubled by this shortage of semiconductor chips. Modern cars have more computers and electronic parts than they have ever had before. Creature comforts such as heated seats cannot be offered without installing the chips. It wasn’t a select group of car manufacturers that had been hit by the chip shortage. All automakers that produce high-end vehicles faced the same problem. Even the companies we would least expect to have this issue, like Tesla, also struggled with the issue. Companies had to adapt by starting in-house production of Semiconductors.
This was not a particularly bad thing for Lawrence Hall Chevrolet. Customers started bringing their cars in for service more often because they could not buy new ones. This created a sudden boom in the service sector of the dealership and they had more work than they could handle. Another service manager, Jim Corbett, said that there was a huge change in the way business was being done before and after COVID. Steering wheels and seats had to be covered before the cars could be returned to the owners. Sanitizing the whole interior of the vehicle had to be done before work could be started and once it was all completed. There was also an increase in pickup and delivery services. Customers were more inclined to get their cars taken for service and then returned to a rendezvous point.
“We would go back and pick up their vehicles, you know with caution,” Jim said. “We would then service them and return them the same way. A lot of customers would ask us to leave the keys in the vehicle in the driveway. This was a way to ensure less person-to-person contact.”
Having less inventory at the dealerships meant that people had to maintain what they already had. The prices of used cars also soared as a result of the shortage of new ones. Ever since COVID hit, people have been selling their old cars for prices higher than the MSRP they originally paid. To do better in the used vehicle market, most owners wanted their cars to be in the best shape. This also boosted the need for service and maintenance. “I think overall, we’ve overcome the adversity of the COVID pandemic as far as our server-side is concerned,” Rick said.
Car manufacturers like GM have noticeably increased their automotive production again – something folks at Lawrence Hall Chevrolet have noticed. Some of these vehicles are put on display or used for walk-in test drives. A major portion of the vehicles gets sold even before they arrive.
Today, most dealerships now offer their new vehicles without the extensive array of options that were previously available. Options that were a norm, such as heated seats and steering are not being offered at this time due to the chip shortage.
The COVID pandemic hit each area of life differently. New car sales at Lawrence Hall Chevrolet plummeted but the dealership didn’t panic. Instead, they focused on areas of the dealership they could control and made a commitment to vehicle service and maintenance during the difficult times. This is a clear indication to why they are regarded as one of the best dealerships in the Big Country area.