Driving Forward

Zach Doran, president of the Ohio Automobile Dealers Association

Despite slower sales, auto dealers still giving back 

By Terry Troy 

As one of the largest business sectors in the state, the retail automotive industry is a clear indicator of where Ohio’s economy is headed. The industry created an estimated 92,679 jobs in 2019, according to data from the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), which includes 44,487 direct jobs and 48,293 indirect jobs or jobs induced by the industry,  

It’s certainly no secret that Ohio’s franchised new vehicle retailers are suffering from the impact of the coronavirus. However, many are still finding ways to give back to the communities they serve.  

While statewide sales statistics for May were unavailable as of this email, regional sales figures point to a downturn in sales versus the near record sales of a year ago. However, many auto dealers and industry professionals are still confident that the industry will recover quicker than it did in the Great Recession of 2008/2009. 

“The fact is, it’s a great time to buy a new vehicle right now,” notes Zach Doran, president of the Ohio Automobile Dealers Association. “There are great incentives right now. Some manufacturers are offering 0% financing for as long as 84 months.” 

Franchised new motor vehicle dealers across Northern Ohio sold a total of 16,421 vehicles in May of 2020, compared with 21,200 in the same month a year prior, according to sales figures recently released by the Greater Cleveland Automobile Dealers’ Association (GCADA). Sales of new vehicles were off by 22.54% for the month and are off by 13.17% for the year to date versus 2019. 

“May was a month of slow economic recovery, with businesses opening and employees returning to work mid-month,” says Louis A. Vitantonio, president of the GCADA. “The consumers of Northern Ohio continued their pursuit of cars and trucks as interest rates remain low and attractive incentives have been promoted.” 

While he declined to comment on specific sales figures, Doran anticipates that statewide sales will be off when the numbers come in later this week. However anecdotal evidence suggests that there are pockets where sales are still strong. 

“When you represent the entire state, you find that some pockets are impacted less than others,” says Doran. “Some of our dealers are telling us that business is not as bad as they thought it would be, while others are telling us that business is in the tank. Business is tough, but most of our dealers are now concerned with getting people back to work and opening back up.” 

Despite the economic downturn, auto dealers have still found ways to support charitable and civic causes, like offering free oil changes to first responders and medical professionals or helping out with food pantry deliveries.  

The Bedford Automile Dealers Association near Cleveland made a $10,000 donation to support the residents of the city of Bedford. 

“Starting at the beginning of March, we had quite a few requests for food,” says City Manager Mark Mallis. “As the program continued through April and May, that number climbed to the point where we’re preparing 180 baskets of food. With the funds from the Bedford Automile Dealers we’re able to stretch the program into June.” 

The Northern Ohio Honda Dealers also donated $10,000 to local food banks as well, selecting 10 community food banks to receive an individual gift of $1,000 for a total of $10,000. David Waikem, owner of Waikem Honda in Massillon, notes that many dealers are matching the group’s donation with a personal contribution.