CARY, N.C. -

KAR Global chief executive officer Jim Hallett did not mince words Tuesday when sharing his concerns about the return of in-person auto auction sales with cars running through lanes, urging the industry to take greater responsibility for safety amid COVID-19.

During a sponsored episode of the Auto Remarketing Podcast, Hallett began by expressing his concern and disappointment from “just a personal point of view as a responsible citizen” on how the United States “as a society” has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He called the pandemic the “most difficult circumstance we've ever dealt with in the history of our lives, and certainly over the last hundred years in this country” and something that would previously have been  “unfathomable” in the United States.

 “When you think about the amount of infections that are continuing to rise and to get worse as we get into the winter weather here; when you think about the amount of deaths that are occurring — people dying — and hospitals that are over capacity in their ICU unit,” Hallett said.

“And yet, as a country, you would think the United States would be leading … in terms of a recovery. And in fact, we're in a very disappointing position, where I believe that we just haven't, in this country … shown the discipline,” he said.

“We have the CDC guidelines. We have the recommendations of our local health authorities. They're asking us to wear masks; we don't want to wear masks — some of us. They're asking us to social distance, and many of us don't respect social distancing,” Hallett added.

“They're asking us not to gather. Not to gather with our families. And you (can) imagine, not to gather for Thanksgiving, not to gather for Christmas. And so, when I look at all that, I feel, as a society, I feel we've been irresponsible. And I think we can do a lot better.”

Hallett then turned to the auto auction industry at large, which he contends has been “irresponsible,” even “reckless” at times, in how sales are being handled amid COVID-19.

Hallett said he finds, “the industry overall is being what I would term as irresponsible. And in some cases, I would say that we're being reckless.

“When you think about all the recommendations that are in place, and we're inviting people to come together in jam-packed crowds, shoulder-to-shoulder, in physical auction lanes, running cars, I think we're putting our employees at risk,” Hallett said. “We're asking our employees to stand in the way of risk, and to be subject to this infection — and possibly death — as a result of doing their job. 

"We're putting our customers at risk. And the industry, I think, needs to be more responsible. And it's not because we've made the decision to go digital,” he said, referring to KAR's all-digital approach.  “We've gone digital because we've made the decision that it's the way of the future … So, we're going digital regardless of what the recommendations are. We're a digital company.

"But I think overall, I think the industry needs to really think about, 'How do I be more responsible, in terms of how I gather and how I sell vehicles?' And listen, it's not just the big auction chains, but all auctions have the opportunity to sell digital. And all auctions have the responsibility to keep their employees and their customers safe.”

To be clear, KAR has returned to allowing in-lane bidding at its ADESA auctions, though no vehicles run through lanes.

Even prior to COVID, Hallett has advocated for the industry at large to stop running vehicles through auction lanes for safety’s sake, most notably during a speach at the 2019 NAAA Convention.

These days, Hallett said, many of KAR’s dealer customers are choosing to stay home and buy online.

“What we have done is, we do allow dealers to come on our property, to preview vehicles, to look at vehicles, inspect vehicles, 'walk vehicles,' as we say,” Hallett said, referring to what KAR currently allows at its ADESA auctions. “And we will allow dealers to sit in our lanes, socially distanced to bid on cars that are being posted digitally on the screen. And we offer that service at our auctions.

“But I can tell you, we find now that we've gone digital and dealers are getting so much more comfortable with digital, that there's fewer and fewer dealers coming for previews. And there's fewer and fewer dealers that are actually wanting to be in the lane,” Hallett said.

“We find that they're preferring to view the vehicles online, with good condition reports and good images. They're becoming much more familiar with digital technology and it seems to be the way of the future.”

To recap the auction operation moves at KAR, the company announced in mid-March that all ADESA auction locations in the U.S. and Canada would temporarily, but immediately, move to simulcast-only amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Four days later, KAR would temporarily halt all ADESA physical auction operations, including simulcast, before gradually resuming some simulcast activities beginning in early April

Auto Remarketing reported in October that operations had been opening up more broadly ever since that time, with all ADESA locations providing ADESA Simulcast and DealerBlock sales, a company spokesperson confirmed, with all locations are also eligible for Simulcast+ sales.  Meantime, in-lane bidding was allowed at most facilities, albeit with no vehicles running through the lane.

For more with Hallett, see the podcast recorded Tuesday in the window below: