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Area car dealerships ready for COVID-19 - 'We're all in this together'

Area car dealerships ready for COVID-19 - 'We're all in this together'

Area car dealerships have put in plans to protect employees and customers during COVID-19 virus outbreak.
Area car dealerships ready for COVID-19 - 'We're all in this together'
Mangino Chevrolet in Amsterdam
Photographer: Peter Barber/Staff Photographer

AMSTERDAM – With over 100 full and part-time people employed at her Amsterdam and Ballston Spa Mangino car dealerships, co-owner Tina Mangino-Coffey has spent long hours over the past couple weeks, strategizing on how to keep her employees and customers safe from the growing threat of the COVID-19 virus.

It’s been a challenging time for the family-owned business with the current focus on employee and customer safety, with sales taking a temporary backseat.

On Tuesday, at her Mangino Chevrolet dealership in Amsterdam, Mangino-Coffey, who serves as president, went into detail on her comprehensive plan to keep everyone safe at her Route 30 location as well as Mangino Buick GMC in Ballston Spa.

“It’s business as usual, but just a little bit different,” Coffey-Mangino said. “We are family. We are practicing social distancing in the showroom where we’ve split up waiting areas. We are taking every precaution that we can with every touch point area, disinfecting all surfaces throughout the dealership. Our staff will be putting a steering wheel and seat protector on every vehicle we work on and we will be using gloves while working inside on the vehicle. We have signs asking everybody to please wash their hands for 20 seconds, just like the Center for Disease Control asked.”

Mangino-Coffey also took her plea to social media on Monday, posting a release on the company’s Facebook page. The statement stressed the steps taken by the Mangino family to keep everyone safe during these uncertain times.

“We just want to be proactive,” Mangino-Coffey said. “We have employees who have loved ones that are undergoing chemo, so we are especially sensitive to that. We’ve implemented no handshakes and it’s not meant to be anything out of disrespect.”

Mangino-Coffey’s husband, Michael, who serves as vice president, said the dealerships usually flourish in mid-March, and despite the unknowns this spring, he is expecting promising sales results after learning that General Motors will offer financial incentives to its Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC vehicles. On Monday, General Motors announced that it was offering 0% financing for seven years – two years more than recent programs – and four months deferred payments to those with A+ credit. The offers are valid through March 31.

Tina and Michael remember vividly the 2009 automobile crisis that resulted in a 40 percent drop nationwide in new vehicle sales, but both are confident that with the measures implemented by government officials, that there won’t be a repeat of one of the biggest financial disasters in American history.

“The signs are there that it won’t happen again,” said Michael who also serves as a volunteer fireman in Ballston Spa. “If we stop the spread of this virus and stay ahead of it, we should be okay.”

The 2009 downturn was blamed on the energy crises that discouraged consumers from purchasing the sports utility vehicles which have low fuel economy. The U.S. government’s $80.7 billion bailout lasted between December 2008 and December 2014.

“I don’t see a comparison with what’s going on now and what happened in 2009,” Michael said. “You know, the stock market is going to play a bigger role in the long term. Right now, gas prices are down and the economy is strong. In 2009, it was basically the gas guzzlers that contributed to the downfall.”

On Tuesday, ALG, a subsidiary of TrueCar, released a study that states the COVID-19 crisis could cause U.S. new vehicle sales to fall by as many as 2.4 million units from 2019.

“We’re optimistic,” Tina said. “We’re all in this together. We ask everyone to support your local businesses because they are getting hurt by this. We’ll get through this.”

Over at Brown’s Ford of Johnstown, co-owner Jeff Brown has been through tumultuous times before, surviving the 2009 industry-wide auto collapse as well. Jeff is co-owner of both Brown’s Ford of Johnstown and Brown’s Ford of Amsterdam, with his brother Derek. The family business is now in its third generation.

“We had a lot of sleepless nights in 2009,” said Brown, who oversees the sales side of the two dealerships while Derek is in charge of service. “We were hemorrhaging money. It was one of the most stressful times in my life. The biggest thing right now is that everybody is working. We’ve got almost full employment and minimal unemployment. Some people have two jobs and a lot of people have overtime. So people are working and the other two things that are important to us are low interest rates and the price of gas is being so cheap.”

China, the epicenter of the viral outbreak, has seen its auto industry all but shut down since last January. February sales in China for Honda dropped 85 percent, Toyota fell 70 percent, Volkswagon plummeted 91 percent and GM sales dropped 92 percent. Despite the dismal China sales numbers, Brown said the Chinese-made auto parts and components to his dealerships hasn’t slowed down, but is unsure how much longer the current pace can be sustained. The Chinese-made auto parts and components business is worth $7 billion a year according to the Center for Automotive Research. Also, on Tuesday, Ford announced it will temporarily shut down vehicle and engine production at its factories in Europe in response to the spread of the virus. The shutdown will begin Thursday, and is expected to continue for a number of weeks, Ford said.

“Ford is going to do whatever it can to stay competitive,” Brown said. “We’re still getting our parts overnight so we really haven’t seen a disruption in the flow of parts from China. Business is a little slower, but people are still coming in and they want to talk about cars and trucks. We’re doing more business online and reaching out over the phone.”

At Lia Nissan of Saratoga, sales manager Larry Dethomasis said there was a noticeable drop off on March 7 – the day the first case of COVID-19 in Saratoga County was confirmed.

“It was like a ghost town that day,” Dethomasis said. “But since then, things have been pretty normal. Traffic hasn’t dropped off all that much.”

Nissan joined Ford in announcing a program giving customers who buy new vehicles the option to delay their first payment for 90 days.

“It’s business as usual,” Dethomasis said. “We are doing a lot of phone deals. The uncertainty of the stock market has hurt us more than anything. Right now, it’s a great time for consumers to buy because of the incentives.”

At Fucillo Kia in Schenectady, vice president Bill Camastro didn’t want to comment on sales projections, stressing that his main concern is to ensure the safety of his employees and customers.

"We're taking responsible measures to create a safe and sanitary environment for our employees and customers," Camastro said. “That’s really all that matters at this time.”

Back at Mangino Chevrolet, the showroom was actually bustling mid-day with sales people working the phones, and cleaning personnel paying great attention to detail from waiting area to rest rooms.

“It’s been steadily busy between our commercial business and our retail business,” Mangino-Coffey said. “We’ve seen a lot of foot traffic. We keep saying that maybe we’re gonna see it drop off and it hasn’t. That’s good. The biggest challenge is dealing with the unknown. We’re just trying sell cars and stay alive. We just take it one day at a time.”

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