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Coachella Valley car dealerships look to bounce back while responding to coronavirus concerns

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Messages about social distancing and other safety measures flashed across the electronic billboard at the Cathedral City Auto Center, where 10 dealers are looking to get sales back on track.

“You know it was kind of scary at first when it first hit.  Everyone kind of sheltered in place and business really dropped.  You know we went from a lot of cars in service a day.  We went from 72 down to about 12 a day, which is really scary when you have a staff of 57 people,” said Larry Knolton, General Manager at Palm Springs Subaru. 

Knolton says the building and the cars for sale are now sanitized daily.

His staff, now reduced to 47, are wearing facial coverings and practicing social distancing. 

“It’s a new reality we have to get used to,” said Knolton. 

The biggest change for prospective buyers at the dealership is they’re being allowed to test drive cars alone, without a sales representative in the car.

Also, “digital retailing” is offered to allow customers to purchase cars online. with home delivery available. 

For service, customers are having their cars picked up at home and later returned once the work is complete.

“I think we need to get out and support our local businesses whether it’s a car dealer or restaurants.  I think it’s time to get going and help them recover as quick as possible,” said customer and Indio resident Jim Knabb. 

Knolton says March and April were especially tough with sales down 50 percent for both months.  

May was off 20 percent.

The Auto Center is a significant source of sales tax revenue for Cathedral City.

Knolton knows getting his business humming again will certainly be good for the city.

One incentive now available at his dealership and many others is zero percent financing for 63 months.

“Our service department has gotten really busy again.  Our sales have started to pick up again.  We had a decent May.  Very happy with sales, we are starting to see more car sales coming out.  More people coming out.  More people in the dealership, which is great,” said Knolton. 

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Tom Tucker

Tom Tucker is a veteran broadcast journalist with nearly 20 years of experience. Learn more about Tom here.

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