Ricart cited a July NADA dealer survey that found 82 percent said the digital process is here to stay. They also said home test drives and home delivery of new vehicles as well as pickup and delivery for service appointments will remain part of their business practices post-COVID.
Ricart cautioned, however, that some automakers were "showing signs of regression to old, bad behaviors" that could curtail the progress dealers have made. As the digital retailing experience evolves, automakers will need to rethink their "mausoleum mandates," he said, referring to the "costly and ever-changing" image programs that define how dealer facilities should look.
"The biggest obstacles to success in 2021 aren't corruption, obstruction and destruction," he said. "The biggest obstacle is regression."
Ricart, 64, is CEO of Ricart Automotive Group in Columbus, Ohio, which sells Ford, Genesis, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi and Nissan vehicles. He spoke with Staff Reporter Audrey LaForest about the ongoing challenges dealers face. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: In a post-pandemic world, what will be the No. 1 challenge for franchised dealers?
A: Customers are telling us how they want to buy cars. All you've got to do is listen. If we just do what they ask, it makes it so much easier. That will be the challenge next year.
Manufacturers think they're going to tell customers what to do. They think they're going to present a product and tell customers how they're going to buy it, then they're going to go ahead and they're going to tell dealers how to take care of customers. Don't do that.
The biggest challenge for us is a regression. We've got such a great thing going right now, a great thing going for customers. Just don't regress. We know the formula, and it's right in front of us. Let's just keep using it.
COVID-19 cases are rising again. Are dealers worried about showrooms being shut down?
The importance of transportation is so critical. The other major thing, which people forget about, is in the state of Ohio, the amount of tax revenue generated by new-car dealerships is so large that we have our own line item on the budget. That's how much money we bring in — billions of dollars in sales tax. So when they lock down car dealerships, the state is locking down their revenue source, and that's probably not going to happen. So you've got to be careful when you do these lockdowns.
Lockdowns on restaurants are one thing because you can order out. But automobile dealerships, it's a double whammy for our government and for our people's safety, so I don't think that's going to happen. And if it does happen, it's going to be for a very short period of time.