Automotive Goes Through Do-Over

Automotive became one of the hardest-hit sectors in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic — especially in the U.S., where auto sales sank by 15% to 14.4 million units  last year.

It’s not that no one bought cars — in fact, just the opposite. There weren’t enough cars to sell, according to Ford and Chevy dealerships. The pandemic forced the closure of factories, including semiconductor chip manufacturers. Dealers were recruiting former customers to buy their used cars, and some were bought above market value.

I sold one of those cars — a 2007 SC 430 Lexus, my first dream car. I sold the Lexus to order my second dream car in June 2020. The dealer delivered it in October. It came in the wrong exterior color. When I asked about reordering the car, the salesperson told me I may not see the reorder for six months or longer based on what manufacturers expected.



Most of the transactions occurred online only because I didn’t want to go into the dealerships during the pandemic.

Penske Automotive Group, and Cox Automotive today announced a joint project for which they built an automated technology platform to enable the online retail sale of used vehicles.

The online buying platform owned by Cox Automotive allows consumers to select from pre-owned vehicles through PAG’s U.S. CarShop used vehicle SuperCenters and franchised dealerships.

Some expect it will be a big year for automotive in 2021 and 2022.

Google is moving deeper into automotive with the launch of a new beta program for Android Auto. It’s available to those with an Android phone. Those participating in the program will gain early access to new features and updates before they are released to the general public. The hook is that beta testers “can help [Google] build a better version of Android Auto.” Sharing feedback helps Google plan improvements for future releases.

Here’s the caveat:We ask that you don’t publicize or share the features you’re testing until they’re publicly available.” That’s a little difficult to ask people to do, and it’s a massive challenge for Google to police.

Android Auto launched in dozens of new countries at the end of 2020. Its wireless connectivity feature also recently got a big boost with news that any Android 11 phone would be able to connect wirelessly to compatible vehicles.

Google reports that Ford is moving more online. While still in the early stages, Ford has developed something of a blueprint for auto brands of the future. The company is making three key changes: Reimagining what auto brands do, driving the connected car experience forward, and transforming the customer relationship model.

I wish Ford luck. Their “customer relationship model” needs lots of work. Before I bought my recent dream car, I owned the Explorer Sport. A manufacture flaw prohibited the XM radio feature from working. Ford’s customer service insisted that if the dealer said the XM radio worked, then it did.

After a year of collecting proof, I had to prove the flaw to Ford. I’m not an engineer, but I managed to build enough proof to require Ford to rethink the problem. I don’t believe the dealer is always right. In this case they were not.

Despite the flaws, Ford has the correct ideas. With more Americans opting out of taking mass transit, demand for autos and their services continues to grow. Yelp reported on Wednesday that in second-quarter 2021, about 9,708 new automotive businesses opened, up 13% compared with pre-pandemic levels.

On its platform it saw auto repair services rise 9% to 1,915; followed by car window tinting businesses by 49% to 297; car rental facilities up by 51% to 178; and car buyers by 42% to 156--all increases above pre-pandemic levels.

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