At B.J. Maurer Ford dealership in Boswell, internet sales director Luke Maurer had been expanding the company’s online communication with customers even before the pandemic.
Now, he’s seeing more people visit the lot in person.
“People are coming in and production is slowly picking back up, so things now seem to be coming back together in unison,” Maurer said. “Things are coming back to life.”
For a period of about two months, from March through April, a pause on new car sales was among Gov. Tom Wolf’s directives aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19. Thousands of new cars were left on lots, and as a result, Maurer said, Ford stopped production.
“It still is harder to get vehicles, but things are picking back up,” he said.
As an example, he said, Ford’s new 2021 Bronco and F-150 models are sold before they arrive at the lot.
‘Demand for used cars’
As for used car dealers, clean, late-model, low-mileage used cars are still a challenge to find, said Chris Zamboni, sales manager at William L. Aurandt’s Auto Sales in Johnstown.
“New car inventory is still not as plentiful as it was,” he said.
“That’s why demand for used cars has increased.”
It’s been a challenge to build inventory, he said.
Since the two-month shutdown, Aurandt’s has slowly built up its inventory from 11 vehicles to 80.
“Demand has been there for the longest time,” he said. “Fortunately, now we have a nice selection.”
As the weather warms, Zamboni forecasts demand will increase.
“We are trying to build inventory now, before March, when the car-buying season hits,” he said.
‘There will be ... buying’
Nationwide, new car sales in 2021 are predicted to increase 8% to 10% over 2020, said Laurel Auto Group President Matt Smith.
Laurel Auto Group’s car vehicle lines include Toyota, Nissan, BMW, Hyundai, Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep in Cambria, Somerset and Westmoreland counties.
“The forecast this year for increased sales over 2020 is great, but it’s still down from past years – 2019, ’18 and ’17,” he said.
“So there was a big dip in the past year.”
But because sales were lower in 2020 than prior years, Smith predicts consumers will behave differently this year.
“There are people who have been employed through the pandemic and maybe waited a year to buy a car and haven’t been spending on the things they would pre-COVID,” he said.
“That, coupled with low interest rates, I think there will be people buying newer cars with more content and better efficiency.”
However, inventory continues to be a big problem, he said.
“It feels like there is demand because cars are coming in, getting placed on the lot and selling at a much more rapid rate because supply is limited,” he said, noting that COVID-19 outbreaks and shutdowns have caused commodity restraints that are still felt throughout the auto industry.
“It could be plastics, electronics, aluminum parts that manufacturers are struggling with,” Smith said. “Somewhere down the supply chain, there’s a shutdown or an outbreak. And that affects overall production.”