Paul LaRochelle is partner at Sheehy Lexus of Annapolis in Maryland and chairman of the Lexus National Dealer Advisory Council. In this video Q&A with Automotive News publisher Jason Stein, LaRochelle discusses how the all-new Lexus IS elevates the compact luxury sports car segment, attracts younger and more diverse buyers to the showroom, and where it fits into the current Lexus lineup. LaRochelle also outlines how his dealership has handled the shift to online retailing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lexus dealer council leader on how the all-new IS elevates the segment and helps attract younger buyers
Jason Hi there, I'm Jason Stein, publisher of Automotive News, and I'm here with Lexus Dealer Council Chairman Paul La Rochelle, partner at Sheehy Lexus of Annapolis in Maryland, part of a 29 store group, Sheehy Auto Stores. It is a pleasure to see you, Paul.
Paul You as well.
Jason Can you start off by just explaining maybe the state of business today? How are things faring in Maryland right now, and what's your view of how the auto landscape looks currently?
Paul Well, speaking in Maryland, in particular, we were fortunate enough in our state that auto dealers were considered essential business. So, while we were allowed to stay open and service are very valued clients and continue to sell cars, I'll say delicately and safely it was definitely an interesting time. Obviously, there was a lot of apprehension from clients around our area to conduct the business, but we we did our best to go to them, reached out on all platforms, social media, emails, direct contacts, and letting them know that we were taking all the precautionary steps to make sure that they were they felt safe when we came to their house, whether it was to pick up their car and bring it back for service, or whether we were even delivering a car to them. So, additionally, some steps we had to take were getting all the paperwork seamlessly, electronically done, whether, again, it was for sales or service. But, we got through it. I think all in all, we we learned a lot of valuable lessons from it. Again, how to handle and delicately treat our customers in a new way, and I don't think that's gonna go away. I think that all of us, again, across the nation, all brands, we all know have to approach a new way to sell and execute the transactions of sales and service for clients, so interesting times. But, coming out of April, as things loosened up, our particular store, we actually had a pretty good May year over year, and I think optimistically speaking, we're all we're very excited about June and the overall sentiment right now from customers is pretty positive.
Jason That's great news. Can you talk a little bit about the shift to online retailing that consumers have taken? How large of a pivot has that been, and how would you adapt to that changing consumer behavior?
Paul Well, you know, I think all of us realize that the digital retailing is is going to be the way of the future. There's still going to be people who want to come in and and obviously sit in and drive and test drive, but we can bring it to them. We can bring vehicles to people's houses, do more of a concierge service where it's one-to-one test drives and more on their time and in the comfort of their homes. And, I think it's being well received because people feel like when they're in their own home and in their living room talking about the options and the pricing, etc., and when we have an iPad or another delivery tool that we're able to go over their options with them, I think there's a level of comfort from them versus kind of the in-dealership feeling that some people, unfortunately, still take away. But, we've been able to adapt, and we'll continue to improve on that. But, customers overall have really, really embraced it. And, it's going very well.
Jason Customers always like to embrace new product, too. Let's talk about the Lexus IS and how much that means to you and your dealership.
Paul We're all excited. You know, the sedans for us and the IS sedan, in particular, that came out in 2000 has always been something we need. It attracts a much younger buyer. This new one we're very excited about, because I think overall, as most of those buyers are looking for, the technology, the driving dynamics that those cars tend to bring, we have really taken this vehicle to an entirely new level when it comes to that. And, I think it's going to attract more buyers. We'll be able to get a little bit more market share with this vehicle than we have, and it's exciting times for us.
Jason Well, Paul, we know that the Lexus brand always represents innovation, performance, style and luxury. How will the all-new 2021 IS really elevate that compact luxury sports car segment?
Paul Well, now that they've seen the vehicle, I think you realized right away from its impact on stage that it's just a much more bold stance, much better wheel design. It's just a phenomenal looking, aggressively stanced car. And, that's what, again, these younger buyers really want to go after. They want something that has that "wow" to it. The style, impact, the performance numbers on the car, are very impressive. And again, I just think these buyers are going to be coming back to Lexus that we haven't seen in quite some time when it comes to the performance of the vehicle.
Jason Paul, you mentioned the importance of younger buyers and attracting younger buyers to the demographic, and that's such a key component for Lexus.
Paul Yeah, for sure. There's one that is really technology based, and that's having AR app that we will launch with this vehicle. And, it's really unique that buyers will be able to actually go to the app, design their car, look at the inside operational features and benefits and kind of lay out a vehicle that they're going to own and put in their driveway one day.
Jason Well, we're doing everything virtually, so why not AR on a new car, right?
Jason So, what can we expect to see from Lexus in terms of a rebound going forward? We know that big product is going to be important, but what are you most excited about with Lexus?
Paul I think, as we talked about in previous reveals and product discussions, one of the things we're really looking forward to is getting our performance back and getting it to another level with some of the future products we have, different engine platforms. More importantly, having electric across all of our lineup.
Jason One more final question on the IS because this is so important for the reveal. Where does it fit in terms of the current Lexus lineup on the lot?
Paul I mean, the IS again, is a sedan that we've chosen to have to attract a youthful buyer. So, I think it's going to be that initial step-up vehicle. It's going to attract those buyers that want that performance, those driving dynamics. They'll be really eager to see this car and drive it.
Jason It's got to be exciting for you.
Paul Very much so.
Jason Wonderful. Thanks so much for being with us today, Paul.