Megaretailers temporarily cut large swaths of their work forces when the outbreak hit — and some made cuts permanent even as demand rebounded.
AutoNation Inc., the nation's largest new-vehicle retailer, furloughed about 7,000 workers in April. About half of them, roughly 14 percent of AutoNation's work force, will be permanent dismissals, the retailer said this month. More than 3,500 of the company's furloughed workers have already returned to work.
Lithia Motors Inc., the nation's third-largest new- vehicle retailer as ranked by Automotive News, furloughed more than 5,100 employees in March. Lithia said in April it would bring back roughly half of them, thereby eliminating about 18 percent of its work force.
Asbury Automotive Group Inc., the nation's seventh-largest new-vehicle retailer, furloughed 2,300 employees. Half of them, or 14 percent of Asbury's work force, have returned, a company spokeswoman said, while the other half were terminated.
CarMax, the nation's largest used- vehicle retailer, had recalled 85 percent of 15,500 furloughed employees, CEO Bill Nash said June 19.
"We expect to return to normal operating levels in the very near future," Nash said.
Sonic Automotive Inc., the sixth- largest new-vehicle retailer in the U.S., said it had terminated 1,200 employees and furloughed 1,700 — a combined third of its work force. The Charlotte, N.C., retailer in late April said it had brought back several hundred workers and planned to bring back most furloughed workers by July. Sonic didn't provide updated figures last week.
Penske Automotive Group Inc., the nation's second-largest new-vehicle retailer, furloughed more than half of its global work force, including 5,300 in the U.S. Globally, 500 employees will not return.
The company is bringing furloughed employees back as business improves, a Penske spokes-man said, but he would not provide specifics. Penske still has furloughed employees, but each week, the number gets smaller, he said.
Not every dealership cut staff as demand fell.
David Wilson, CEO of David Wilson Automotive Group in Orange, Calif., said he hasn't let anyone go during the crisis.
His dealership group, which ranks No. 12 on Automotive News' list of the top 150 dealership groups based in the U.S., has 16 stores in California, Arizona and Nevada and one location in Mexico.
About 10 percent of the group's 2,500 employees — mostly employees with kids at home or with health concerns — were out at some point on voluntary furloughs, Wilson said. Less than 50 remain off work.
While April was the group's worst month financially since the Great Recession, Wilson said he was glad to have kept his staff.
"May was the best month our company has ever had," he said, citing sales of 6,065 new and used vehicles and a 30 percent profit increase from the group's previous record month.
Now, Wilson's biggest concern is replenishing new vehicles. He doesn't expect to see any new cars hit his lots until early August.
"We're watching our inventory shrink drastically," Wilson said.
David Muller and Lindsay VanHulle contributed to this report.