Automotive Dealerships Aren’t Going Anywhere

The retail auto industry faces challenges, but it has an excellent track record of adapting to changing technologies and consumer demands.

By Larry Lantz Wheels.ca

Aug 17, 2017 3 min. read

Article was updated 6 years ago

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At the height of the dot-com boom in the early 2000s, there was speculation about the future of automotive salespeople. Many so-called experts predicted that salespeople would become redundant once consumers could buy vehicles online.

Well, the dot-com boom went bust, and salespeople continued to (and still do) provide an essential role in the car-buying process.

Recently, there have been rumours about the eventual demise of auto dealerships, as new technologies and transportation systems impact our industry. This made me think of those inaccurate predictions about salespeople 25 years ago.

Truth is, auto dealerships are not going anywhere. Admittedly, the retail auto industry is facing challenges that many other industries are facing: consolidation, hiring and retaining staff, competition, and advanced technology. But, dealerships also have an excellent track record of adapting to changing technologies and consumer demands.

No single automotive source provides more brand-specific products and specialized services than a dealership. Whether it’s located in Toronto or Thunder Bay, dealerships offer a selection of new and pre-owned vehicles, lease and finance options, genuine parts and accessories, service, and collision repairs — all at a single point of contact.
Also Read: Operating a dealership in a small town has its benefits

In addition to these products and services, there is a level of expertise found at dealerships that does not exist anywhere else. As vehicles become more complex, they require specialized tools, training and knowledge (provided by the manufacturer) to properly diagnose and fix.

Automotive technicians are continuously upgrading their skills and product knowledge and utilizing the latest tools of their trade.

Salespeople, too, are upgrading their skills on a regular basis. They must learn about the countless features and options on the models they sell, and they need to know about the competition.

Anyone considering a career in the retail auto industry might hear the rumours of the demise of dealerships and be tempted to shy away from it. That would be a big mistake.

As the auto industry evolves, so does the need for a skilled workforce in all areas of a dealership’s operations: sales, service, collision repairs, parts, accounting, marketing, I.T., human resources, and management.

Many students have wisely chosen not to heed the warnings about the demise of dealerships and to pursue a career in the auto industry.

Enrolment levels at the Automotive Business School of Canada at Georgian College in Barrie have remained consistently high in recent years. So has enrolment for automotive-based courses at Conestoga College, Centennial College, Durham College and other post-secondary schools throughout Ontario.

Advances in technology are impressive and often steal the media spotlight. Think of all the media attention that Uber, autonomous and electric vehicles have received of late.

Although EVs still only represent a small portion of the new car market in Canada, the pendulum is swinging toward a more robust future for these vehicles. In 2016, EV sales climbed 56 per cent in Canada, and sales of electric and plug-in hybrids will continue to rise, as battery and charging technology improves, and as the number of charging stations expands.

Ride-sharing companies (Uber, Lyft) have influenced the auto industry, too, but ride-sharing vehicles are still purchased, repaired and maintained at dealerships.

Yes, the automotive industry is in the midst of massive changes, but dealerships will adapt as they always have. They will do so by continuing to deliver great customer experiences to ensure their future viability.

As consumers continue to embrace these new technologies and transportation systems, dealerships will continue to serve as the ‘go to’ destination for specialized sales, service, parts, maintenance, and warranty repairs.

As automotive customer surveys and car shopping behaviours indicate, consumers are more than happy with the quality of products and services they receive at their local dealership.

Automotive dealerships

This column represents the views and values of the TADA. Write to president@tada.ca or go to tada.ca. Larry Lantz is president of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association and is a new-car dealer in Hanover, Ont.

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