Dealerships across more states and municipalities face uncertainty over whether they can continue to physically keep open sales and service departments as more governors and local leaders issue stay-at-home orders across the U.S. to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
With more directives coming over the weekend and on Monday, at least 14 states have issued stay-at-home or closures of nonessential business orders, with more expected to be announced.
In many cases the orders have deemed auto service and repair as an essential business and dealerships are able to maintain service operations. But not all executive orders are the same, and uncertainty has led some dealerships to shut entire locations in some areas of the country.
On Sunday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine issued a stay-at-home order for all Ohioians. It goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. Monday and runs through April 6. Ohio's order lists "automobile supplies [including dealers, parts, supplies, repair and maintenance] among essential businesses that can remain open."
The Ohio Automobile Dealers Association said on its website that it "believes that this order permits dealers to be open for sales and service functions. However, if dealers have any questions regarding the scope of what services they may continue to offer, please contact your legal counsel for additional guidance."
Ohio is home to about 825 new-vehicle franchised dealers.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday issued a stay-at-home order effective at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday through April 13, prohibiting people from leaving their homes for work “except to the extent that those workers are necessary to sustain or protect life or to conduct minimum basic operations.”
Tiffany Brown, a spokeswoman for Whitmer, told Automotive News on Monday that auto sales are prohibited in the state, though repair and maintenance operations can continue following the guidelines in the order. A message seeking comment was left with Terry Burns, executive vice president of the Michigan Automobile Dealers Association. Michigan has more than 600 franchised new-vehicle dealerships.
In New Jersey, the state’s 500 or so dealerships have had to shut showrooms, though service bays can remain open. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s stay-at-home order specifically cites car dealerships as an exception to the closure of nonessential retail businesses, “but only for auto maintenance and repair, and auto mechanics.” New Jersey’s order went into effect on Saturday and lasts until further notice.
Meanwhile, CarMax on Monday said it had increased its store closures to 45 -- 27 locations in California, two in Florida, one in Georgia, one in Mississippi, four in Nevada, two in New Jersey, three in New York and five in Pennsylvania.
Some stores, such as the ones in California and New Jersey, are closed "until further notice," while others have projected dates for reopening, the company said in a release.
Connecticut: A “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order takes effect at 8 p.m. on Monday and requires nonessential businesses to close. It lists “auto supply, repair, towing, and service, including roadside assistance,” among essential services that can remain open. The Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association, which represents about 270 new-vehicle dealerships, said in a website post on Friday that the governor’s order makes clear that dealership service and repair departments are essential businesses, but is asking for more clarity.
Delaware: Gov. John Carney's order to close nonessential businesses and keep Delaware residents at home begins at 8 a.m. Tuesday and lasting through May 15 “or until the public threat is eliminated. A link of essential and nonessential businesses says automobile dealers are not essential, while it lists automotive parts, accessories and tire stores, and automotive repair and service as essential, meaning service can remain open.
Indiana: Gov. Eric Holcomb issued a stay-at-home order for Indiana residents, except for essential work, certain permitted activities and to obtain necessary supplies. The order, effective at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday through 11:59 p.m. April 6, carves out an exception for auto supply and auto repair businesses.
Kentucky: Auto dealers are not considered life-sustaining businesses and “showrooms must close,” according to Gov. Andy Beshear’s executive order, although it adds that “dealers may provide repair, parts and service.” Other auto repair, parts, accessories and tire businesses also can continue to operate under the order. A message seeking comment was left with the Kentucky Automobile Dealers Association.
Louisiana: The state's stay-at-home order, which takes effect Monday and runs through April 12, includes a number of exempt businesses including transportation workers. It was not immediately clear if dealerships were included in that segment, though the state linked to the U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency’s essential worker functions, which includes automotive repair and maintenance facilities as essential businesses. The Louisiana Automobile Dealers Association asked that the state “recognize automobile dealerships, auto-supply or repair establishments, and retailed facilities and services as essential businesses.”
Maryland: Gov. Larry Hogan has issued a stay-at-home order effective at 5 p.m. Monday. Peter Kitzmiller, president of the Maryland Automobile Dealers’ Association, said the group is still waiting for clarity from the governor’s office about what constitutes an essential business practice as the state pushes for stricter enforcement of current bans.
Massachusetts: Gov. Charlie Baker issued an order closing all non-essential businesses’ physical locations as of noon Tuesday until April 7. It was not immediately clear whether dealerships could continue to operate sales and service functions. Baker’s administration released a list of businesses considered essential and allowed to continue physical operations, including automotive repair and maintenance facilities, along with retailers that sell auto supplies and repair services.
Missouri: The state now requires social distancing statewide in an order issued on Saturday, effective from Monday until April 6. The order limits restaurants and bars to carry-out or delivery service, but does not prohibit people from visiting businesses’ physical locations, including grocery stores and gas stations, so long as they take precautions. Some municipalities in the state, such as St. Louis city and county, issued more stringent measures that close non-essential businesses. The Missouri Automobile Dealers Association said it's still a question mark whether sales are an allowable service, though most of the state's 385 franchised new-car dealerships seemingly can operate as usual.
Oregon: Gov. Kate Brown on Monday issued a “Stay Home, Save Lives” order effective at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. Car dealerships are not ordered to close, according to Willamette Week.
Tennessee: Gov. Bill Lee’s order does not require Tennessee residents to “shelter-in-place,” and keeps open workplaces and businesses “necessary to maintain health and economic well-being” as long as people follow established health and safety precautions. The order took effect Monday and lasts until April 6. Nashville and Davidson County issued a shelter-at-home public health order on Sunday that requires nonessential businesses to close beginning Monday for 14 days. Under the local order, “vehicle fuel, support and service stations, vehicle parts and repair businesses, and vehicle sales, leasing and rental businesses” are exempt. The Tennessee Automotive Association has made the case to government leaders that dealerships should be considered essential businesses.
David Muller and Jackie Charniga contributed to this report.