Car sales are inching forward.

Though new-vehicle sales are down 47% year-over-year, and rental, commercial, and government fleet purchases have fallen 70% over the same period, too, the auto industry has enjoyed small amount of good news. Average incentive spending reached $4,296 per vehicle in April, according to Cox Automotive, up 7% from March and up 26% year-over-year. Sales of classic cars are booming. Factories across Europe and the U.S. have begun to reopen.

So have dealerships, though they are reeling from the loss of 265,000 jobs, according to Cox Automotive. Take Porsche Beverly Hills, where Sascha Glaeser works as director of customer experience and VIP sales. “We opened again on Friday, and customers are coming into the dealership,” he tells Pursuits by phone. “For me, I’m trying to do everything from home. When I do go in, we have masks on. We try to keep as much distance as possible.”

The outbreak has significantly changed how we think about—and shop for—the cars in our lives. While some changes are temporary, others are most likely permanent.

To better learn how the car-buying experience will evolve through Covid-19—and how best to navigate it—I spoke with experts from research firms, car dealerships, and even our own Bloomberg Automotive Intelligence team. They highlighted a host of issues that will factor in to the new world of car buying, including e-commerce, independent mechanics’ shops, and strict franchise laws. Below are their answers to the most pressing questions about the future of acquiring vehicles.

Will social distancing kill the car dealership?
The shorter answer is no, it won’t. But it has sped up changes that were already in motion before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

“We know that consumers will continue to be concerned about social distancing,” says Stephanie Brinley, principal automotive analyst at research firm IHS Markit. “But what we really see is that there were trends toward making car buying an easier process already happening before we started going into [the pandemic].”

The old-fashioned handshake deal will be dead. But the prevalence of smaller showrooms, tactical, more localized marketing, pre-approved financing, and online sales and insurance transactions is likely to grow.

Jack Gillis, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America, says social distancing is quickly forcing car dealers to alter their entire sales strategy. Some dealers are changing compensation plans, for instance, so sales representatives get paid for how many cars they sell, not necessarily the value sold. This removes a lot of pressure on the sales floor—for everyone.

“One of the biggest challenges for a consumer when buying a car is matching wits with a seasoned professional in the showroom—this is a person trained to get as much money as they can for each car,” he says. “These are trained negotiators who do this, day in and day out. Consumers are like lambs being led in to slaughter when we go into a showroom.”

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