Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story contained an incomplete quote from KAR CEO Jim Hallett. The full quote now appears.
Eight months after switching to all-digital sales because of the coronavirus pandemic, Manheim said Thursday it will once again run cars down physical auction lanes.
As part of a pilot program, vehicles will run down lanes at Manheim Nashville beginning Nov. 10 and at Manheim Daytona Beach on Nov. 11.
The Cox Automotive auction giant said the move comes after it became more confident in its phased-in reopening approach as well as in response to customer demand.
The decision to run cars down lanes again is a stark contrast from the approach of competitor KAR Global, which has pledged its commitment to digital-only sales at its ADESA auctions. KAR CEO Jim Hallett, who had pushed for more digital-only sales before the pandemic, said Wednesday: "We are 100 percent digital, and we have no plans to return to running cars.”
Some independent auctions have been running vehicles down lanes for months. Manheim and ADESA have been allowing in-lane bidding at most of their auction sites, but cars and trucks have been shown on digital displays.
Manheim said that it will carefully monitor the two pilot sales before announcing plans for additional in-lane sites.
It said the restart of physical auction sales will look different for each location and will implement social-distancing measures. The number of sellers who can run vehicles will be limited.
If COVID-19-related developments impact the pilot, Manheim will adjust accordingly, the company said. It is still encouraging dealers to use its digital tools and platforms to trade vehicles.
Since March, 87 percent of all Manheim purchases have been from digital buyers.
"In the same way that we phased in Digital Block sales, our approach with the pilot program will be careful and deliberate, while closely monitoring health and safety," Manheim President Grace Huang said in a statement. "Thank you to our dealers for your support of our safety protocols throughout the pandemic, as it gave us confidence that together, we could safely return to running cars down lanes."
Manheim and ADESA both switched to all-digital auctions March 16. ADESA halted auctions altogether for a few weeks before resuming in April. The wholesale market took a wild ride through the summer, before cooling off as of late.