Weekend Wheels: Car Buying and COVID-19
Reach out for a welcoming, nice-to-meet-you hand-shake, and chances are you’ll get a squirt of sanitizer and the offer of a face-mask.
Climb behind the wheel to take a test drive, and the reassuring aroma of germ-whacking isopropyl alcohol will likely permeate from every surface.
And that’s after the protective plastic covering is taken off the steering wheel and shifter, and the key fob and door handle are given one last spritz of industrial-grade disinfectant.
Yes, car buying in the age of coronavirus COVID-19 is a little different. But actually a whole lot safer.
“The health of our customers and employees has become our number one priority. It really does border on the obsessive,” says David Jacovides, general manager at Crown-owned Audi Clearwater.
“My wife was concerned about me coming to work, but I told her that walking through our showroom door right now is like walking into an operating theater. It’s never been so sterile.”
We’ve stopped by Jacovides’ store on US-19 to find out how car-buying is changing in these life-changing times. In a nutshell — a lot.
These days expect at-home test drives, complete, soup-to-nuts on-line buying, video walk-arounds of pre-owned vehicles, and yes, a lot of sanitizing.
“The car-buying process was changing before COVID-19 with a much greater focus on doing everything on-line from home. The pandemic has simply pushed the timeline forward,” explains Jacovides.
This coming week, the Crown group, of which Audi Clearwater is a part, kicks off its Modern Retail Tool initiative that lets you go on-line at crownaudi.com and work a complete car-buying deal without stepping foot in a showroom.
The state-of-the-art software will let you pick the car or SUV you’re looking for, value your trade-in, and take you through the financing and leasing options.
Approval is done on-line, and the car delivered to your driveway. Just sign on the dotted line — six feet socially-distant and with a sanitized pen, naturally — and it’s done.
But Jacovides points out that the majority of his customers still prefer to visit the showroom, still want to see how that shade of Audi Matador Red looks in sunlight, still want to try out for themselves the spacious second-row seats in the latest Q8 SUV.
“Remember, next to a home, a new or even pre-owned vehicle is the second biggest purchase someone will make. People want to see it in the metal.”
That’s when Jacovides’ coronavirus safety measures kick in.
Everything from a full-time cleaner walking round the showroom and service reception, to an overnight professional cleaning crew, to service staff simply arming themselves with disinfectant spray bottles.
“Naturally, a big focus for us is ensuring the safety of anyone taking a test drive,” explains Vasi Tsekvoa, Audi Clearwater brand specialist and fount of all Audi vehicle knowledge.
That means no salesperson in the vehicle, wipe-downs of all touch points before and after a test drive, staying six feet apart from customers and, as an added precaution this coming week, all sales staff wearing face masks.
“For anyone uncomfortable about coming in, we’ll happily deliver a vehicle to someone’s home, sanitize it after we get out, and come back the next day to pick it up,” says Vasi.
While she’s seen above clutching her ever-present bottle of Clorox, it’s nice to see big bottles of sanitizer from Clearwater-based Big Storm Brewing Company dotted around the showroom.
“Supporting local business in challenging times has always been a real priority for us,” says Jacovides.
Few people outside Crown know that when COVID-19 hit and local restaurants closed their doors, Jacovides and his counterpart at Crown Acura researched which restaurant owners in the area were clients.
They then ordered over 250 meals from those restaurants — totaling around $5,000 in value — and delivered them to healthcare workers at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater.
“It was our way of supporting local business owners who had, over the years, supported us by buying our vehicles. And, equally important, showing our heartfelt appreciation of healthcare workers on the frontline.”
Knowing Jacovides’ new obsession with sanitizing, we’re sure he included hand-wipes with every food box.