It’s not business as usual, but dealers in New York State won Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s approval to keep sales operations working on a limited basis during the COVID-19 pandemic emergency — conducting business mostly online and over the phone, and within strict social-distancing rules.
“Dealership sales departments should not be open to the general public,” the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Assn. said in a March 26 bulletin to its members.
“But dealers may conduct transactions remotely or electronically to meet the needs of a segment of consumers who, at this critical time, require new or replacement vehicles, or who must return a vehicle where the lease has ended,” the association said.
Mark Schienberg, president of the Greater New York association, based in Whitestone, NY, said the approval takes effect immediately. “So, dealers can start gearing back up and figuring out their operations and staffing needs,” he said in a phone interview on March 26.
The ruling applies to franchised, new-vehicle dealers in the state, plus licensed, independent used-car dealers, he said.
On March 20, the New York governor declared that dealership parts and service departments and related administrative positions were “essential” businesses, and therefore exempt from a statewide shutdown of non-essential businesses aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19.
However, sales operations were not designated essential, which the dealer association interpreted as an order to close showrooms.
Under the new ruling on March 26, dealerships agreed to conduct all deliveries and interactions with customers: either outside the dealership; in a service bay cleaned according to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Coronavirus Prevention Guidelines; in a designated room cleaned according to the CDC Guidelines; or at the consumer’s home or place of business.
“All personal interactions — whether in returning a vehicle or exchanging paperwork — must
follow CDC Guidelines and New York State requirements related to workplace health and social distancing,” the dealer association said in the bulletin.
Schienberg said under the circumstances, asking for business as usual would have been a non-starter.
“Clearly, here in New York the numbers here affected by the virus are so high, and the governor has really been stressing the need to do social-distancing and all the protocols the CDC is calling for,” he said.
“When we put together the proposal, clearly we wanted to be cautious about any health risk to consumers or to employees,” Schienberg said.
New York franchised dealers belong to several regional dealership associations around the state, which all participated in the lobbying effort. The Greater New York association represents the New York City metro area. Other regional associations are based in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany.