WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Gone are the days of visiting a car dealership, test driving a vehicle and taking it home – at least for now.
Michael O’Connell, general manager of Balise Toyota of Warwick, tells 12 News that the pandemic has forced his dealership to manage, survive and conduct business in a completely different way.
“We normally stock on the property 300 to 350 new cars,” O’Connell said. “Currently, we have less than 10.”
Some of the company’s empty parking lots are being utilized for employee parking, but O’Connell said prior to the pandemic they would be filled with brand new cars.
But while this may suggest a thinning inventory and shrinking sales, O’Connell said that’s not the case.
“Sales have been steady, no question,” O’Connell said. “With the inventory levels being what they are, we’re just never sure exactly what we’re going to get that month, but for the most part we’ve been able to maintain a steady sales level.”
O’Connell said they’ve shifted gears to adapt to a new way of selling: pre-orders.
“The customer will sit down, they’ll give us exactly what they are looking for, we’ll order it and as best we can we’ll tell them when we think that car will be here,” O’Connell explained.
What makes pre-ordering difficult, O’Connell said, is not knowing exactly when the car will arrive.
“We can tell people 30 to 60 days and it may end up being 90, it’s a moving target,” O’Connell said.
O’Connell believes the computer chip shortage is what’s fueling the low inventory levels.
“The chip shortage has been the biggest part of the problem,” O’Connell said, adding that staffing shortages in manufacturing and distributing new vehicles are also contributing factors. “All of those things combined really make for a reduced inventory.”
O’Connell said he’s heard from manufacturers that mid-2022 is when the nationwide inventory could return to pre-pandemic levels, but that timeline isn’t set in stone.