The feds have spoken. Will all 50 states oblige?
As the global economy has generally come to a halt because of the coronavirus pandemic, certain essential services have remained available. Grocery stores (many of which now offer delivery), pharmacies, convenience stores, garbage collection, banks, and pet stores are some of the essential businesses allowed to remain open, at least in the US. But now the federal government is adding one more industry to that list: auto sales.
Last Friday, the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure announced that "Workers critical to the manufacturing, distribution, sales, rental, leasing, repair and maintenance of vehicles and other transportation equipment" are now considered essential. This now paves the way for auto dealerships across the country to gradually begin reopening their service departments and sales teams. Up until now, only employees who worked in dealer repair shops were allowed to work.
Dealership lobbyist groups have been pushing for the sales restart to happen for the past several weeks. However, not every state has to abide by these updated guidelines. This is not a federal mandate, but rather permission for auto sales to resume if governors give their approval as well. Like most matters related to the pandemic, state and local health officials will ultimately determine whether dealerships can reopen and, if so, what specific health and safety procedures they must put into place first.
As of this writing, a total of 24 states are allowing dealerships to remain open, both sales and service departments, while 23 states have allowed online sales only. Keeping service departments up and running in all 50 states should have been an essential service all along because there are health care workers, delivery drivers, and those working in other essential industries that require vehicle maintenance.
Now that the feds have given states permission to allow car sales to continue, automakers are jumping at the opportunity. Already, FCA has launched its "Drive Forward" sales program which offers customers 0 percent financing for up to 84 months and zero payments for 90 days on certain 2019 and 2020 vehicles.
In other words, now is perhaps the best time ever to buy a new Jeep Wrangler, Gladiator, Dodge Charger, or Chrysler Pacifica. GM has also launched its own 0 percent interest plan and chances are other automakers will do something similar.