XLerate worked with local health departments and police departments in deciding how to operate various locations, Hitchcock said. Where physical auctions have continued, the lanes and offices now have markings to enforce social distancing, he said. The company provided personal protective equipment to customers and employees and put up plastic barriers. A continuous cleaning regimen is in force.
Over the past three months, as the severity of the outbreak varied greatly by region, there has been one confirmed case of COVID-19 among XLerate's 1,200 employees and 400 contractors, and it was contracted outside the workplace, Hitchcock said.
At ServNet, a group of 24 independently owned and operated auctions, responses to the pandemic have varied by location. All ServNet auctions have worked with local and state health officials and law enforcement, said John Brasher, ServNet's executive director. None of the auctions had in-lane bidding until early May, when a handful of locations invited dealers back. At that time, some of the auctions, such as one in Houston, invited top buyers by volume into the lanes for bidding.
At ServNet's Akron Auction, attendees had to fill out a questionnaire crafted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In some cases, auction personnel took people's temperatures when they came in, Brasher said. The Akron location also put large stickers on the ground with the slogan "BE SAFE & CAR FULL" as markers for social distancing.
ServNet's auction leaders are "very cognizant" of the risks of opening prematurely, Brasher said, "because they're the owners of the company."
"They not only own the liability if something should happen," he said. "But on top of that, these are their family members, the people they've been working with for generations and their customers they've known for decades."
Through mid-June, ServNet had no reported cases of COVID-19 at any of its locations, Brasher said.
ServNet and XLerate saw a boost in online activity in April and May as they were forced to do more digital-only sales. Both were equipped for it, their leaders said. ServNet first did simulcast auctions in 1996. XLerate has switched to all-digital sales in the past amid major weather events.
But a completely digital auction world is still not a reality, and even the outbreak of a virus that spreads when people are in close proximity could not force a permanent shift. Even before the pandemic, though, some in the industry talked about ending the physical movement of vehicles at auctions for another reason: to eliminate accidents that have proved deadly.
Jim Hallett, CEO of Kar Global, which owns ADESA, bluntly told an industry audience last October that auctions will never be totally safe with cars running in lanes. Cox Automotive CEO Sandy Schwartz said in Automotive News' "Congress Conversations" series in May that he hoped no car would run through a lane "for at least the rest of this year," adding that digital auctions are safer, quicker and "better for everybody."
The executives have stuck to that so far, with vehicles appearing on screens even at locations that have welcomed back in-lane bidders.
On March 16, Manheim and ADESA each said they would switch to all-digital formats. Manheim didn't invite in-lane bidders back until last week at five pilot locations. Another three locations are expected to follow in the coming weeks. In late May, ADESA opened six locations to in-lane bidders and expanded that to 28 as of last week. Like the smaller companies, ADESA and Manheim have implemented social distancing and other safety measures. At ADESA, buyers apparently have not rushed back into the lanes.
"The reality we're finding is dealers want to come out and preview cars more than anything," ADESA President John Hammer said. Some dealers then head back to their stores and bid remotely. The vast majority of ADESA and Manheim locations now allow in-person previewing before sales, company officials said.