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AUTOMOTION: Vehicle dealerships in Quesnel shifting to factory orders

While stock on lots appears low, Fraer River GMC and Cariboo Ford managers say sales have been high

Empty vehicle lots at dealerships around Quesnel aren’t painting an accurate picture, say local dealerships.

Both Cariboo Ford and Fraser River GMC managers said that sales have rebounded, with companies moving to selling factory orders instead of trading with other dealerships.

A global microchip shortage, provincial supply chain issues and COVID-19 measures in factories have meant visible inventory is low, but managers report strong sales.

Bob Deane is the general sales manager at Cariboo Ford. He said before the pandemic he could fill 90 per cent of vehicle requests through trading with other dealerships. But if you want a specific truck now, you’ll need to factory order it.

“The truck (you want) doesn’t exist, they’re like unicorns,” Deane said.

At Fraser River GMC, general manager Shane Thon is in a similar situation. Both Thon and Deane said their companies are looking to copy the Tesla model moving forward.

Instead of test driving a car that you purchase, a customer will order it directly and have it delivered to the dealership.

“By accident and by chaos, we are being taught to emulate what the Tesla model is,” Thon said.

“Tesla doesn’t have dealerships. They have a showroom where you can go pick your colour, look at the interior, they only have five models.”

Customers browsing different dealerships around town to pick out a truck may be gone.

“I don’t think you are going to see the days of dealers having two or three hundred pieces sitting on their lot,” Deane said.

“You’re going to see dealers with 20 pieces, and rely on custom orders.”

A lack of new vehicles means a lack of trade-ins, putting major pressure on used sales.

“I’ve got customers selling vehicles back for more than they paid me for them,” Deane said.

“That’s not always the case, but it does happen quite frequently.”

The lack of semi-conductors has drawn headlines around the world, but Thon said other issues have affected Quesnel dealerships, including the Lytton wildfire and floods in 2021. Six vehicles sold to Fraser River customers in Quesnel were stuck waiting for seven weeks for the rail system to be repaired.

“Everything is beyond our control, but having said that, we’re doing our best to keep our employees here and able to provide to their families,” Thon said.

Despite fewer vehicles on the lot sales are at pre-pandemic levels at Fraser River GMC.

“When a load (of four vehicles) shows up, three of the four, or four of the four might be sold,” Thon said.

“We unload them, wash them up, call our customers… and they come and pick them up and drive away… (The lot) doesn’t look any different, but I actually sold four vehicles while you weren’t looking.”

Deane said Cariboo Ford has seen the return of strong sales as well.

“It hasn’t hurt our business, we’ve just adapted and worked around it,” he said.

In fact, Thon said the biggest challenge facing his dealership wasn’t a shortage of products to sell, but people to sell and service them.

“It’s tough to find people right now. The inventory of humans is worse than our inventory of cars,” he quipped.

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