The hardest part about buying a new car during the pandemic may be finding a new car.
While the automotive industry is showing signs of recovery, months of production stoppage, supply chain interruption and stay-at-home disruption has left many Chicago-area dealers with few new cars and lots of empty spaces.
Adding to the inventory shortage, the new model year — an automotive rite of fall — has yet to hit showrooms in any significant numbers. Many 2021 models may not actually arrive until 2021.
“It’s kind of hard to sell from an empty cupboard when you don’t have any new vehicles,” said John Webb, a principal with family-owned Packey Webb Ford, a 58-year-old Downers Grove dealership.
The auto industry is gaining some momentum after grinding to a halt at the onset of the pandemic. Chicago-area auto plants, which were shut down for much of the spring, are back up to pre-COVID-19 employment and production levels. Dealerships are open for business and consumer demand has been strong.
But COVID-19 has been a change accelerator for the industry. With new cars in short supply, used car sales hit record numbers this summer. Online sales took off, dealers picked up and dropped off cars for service, and showroom visits touted Plexiglas and masks over free coffee and doughnuts.