But customer access to dealerships, at least for vehicle sales, varied greatly from city to city and state to state.
Most stores could keep service operations running as they were deemed essential, but many had to shut their showrooms to foot traffic.
Ryan Bolz, director of digital marketing and e-commerce at Hendrick Automotive Group, said the retailer emphasized concierge services for vehicle drop-offs or pickups for service appointments.
"We systematically went to every store and confirmed what features and capabilities that they're able to offer," Bolz said. The company then took that message to customers, updating websites and ad copy accordingly.
Hendrick stores conducted at-home test drives, video vehicle walk-arounds and question-and-answer sessions with service advisers via Apple's FaceTime.
"We really focused in on adapting quickly to meet our customers' new expectations of safety [and] health, ensuring that their well-being is part of the selling process," Bolz said.
As dealers shifted their focus to remote services, the Internet became a crucial aspect of doing business.
Karen Rodriguez, director of operations and Internet sales at Doral Automotive Group in Doral, Fla., said the crisis brought showroom traffic to a near halt in April.
At that time, more than 80 percent of sales originated in the retailer's business development center.
"Everybody either called or went online when submitting a lead," Rodriguez said. "We had to do a lot of, obviously, home deliveries and all that, and without the help of [the] BDC, I don't know how many of those customers would have been properly attended and taken care of."
Doral is doing more home deliveries than ever. And even for other transactions, more of the process has moved online, she said.
Where possible, dealers have cut costs. Since the crisis began, Doral has mostly avoided adding expenses, such as new vendors, and is restricting overtime hours, Rodriguez said.
Audi Wilmington, in Delaware, is evaluating how many people it takes to run the dealership, said General Manager Thomas Mihok. The store is cross-training employees with the aim of maintaining volumes with a lower employee count.
"We no longer have the luxury of hiring people," said Mihok.
Capital Chevrolet of Raleigh in North Carolina split up shifts. In the first 30 days of the crisis, the dealership went to alternating schedules, which hurt sales and service as both departments operated at half of their normal capacity, said General Manager Casey Best.
Costs must be managed on a consistent basis, said Best, who suggests reviewing each employee's tasks every 90 days with department managers.
"It really magnifies that when something like this occurs," he said. "There are a lot of positions that can be combined into one."
Capital Chevrolet also cut advertising significantly. "We were probably spending $140,000 a month advertising, and we probably pulled back to $65,000," Best said. "And our sales business didn't drop off. That's a change that we will certainly monitor."
Of course, cutting staff is tough. Jimmy Macagna, general manager at Audi Nyack in New York, recalled the day he had to let 22 employees go.
"That was the hardest day of my career," Macagna said. The store was able to bring most employees back after an "awful" April.