Ricart Automotive Group has “embraced” consumer demands for a smoother car-buying process.
And that includes a more digitalized purchasing process, as Ricart has participated in fintech company AutoFi’s Express Checkout program, which facilitates online car sales. It was one of Express Checkout’s delta test dealers back in 2017.
But that doesn’t discount the importance of the dealership visit, says the group’s president and chief executive officer Rhett Ricart.
“Consumers want a more transparent, seamless vehicle purchasing experience with less paperwork involved. We embraced that early on,” Ricart said in an emailed Q&A. “However, the notion that customers don’t want to come to a dealership, as claimed by some auto-retail industry disruptors, is false.”
In fact, 95% of Ricart Automotive’s online buyers chose to pick the car up at the dealership, Ricart said. They want to learn more about the technology and features in the car.
“Consumers enjoy the experience of taking delivery of their vehicle and driving it away – a testament that auto dealers truly understand what consumers want and value long-term customer satisfaction,” he said.
Online sales and creating a more seamless buying process are just some of the many threads in the fabric of running a car dealership these days, an endeavor that now has “increasing complexity,” Ricart said.
As the Ohio dealer steps into the role as 2020 chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association at the group’s annual convention, he aims to help navigate franchised dealers through that complexity.
“NADA is a lean, mean machine, even more so now than it’s ever been. I want to leverage NADA’s resources to address and focus on the most important issues facing dealers today,” Ricart said when asked about his top goals for NADA this year.
“I want to offer dealers and their staffs additional NADA training and tools to help them stay ahead of the curve in light of the increasing complexity of operating an automobile dealership,” said Ricart, who was NADA’s vice chairman for 2019.
The challenges facing franchised dealers range from affordability and financial considerations to changes in the car-buying process, finding technicians and data collection/privacy issues.
“The increasing price of vehicles and the growing inability of our customers to afford a new car or truck is an important issue facing new-car dealers,” Ricart said. “Furthermore, we need to address dealers’ ability to manage increased pressure on new-car profitability and dealership size and cost structure.
“From a customer perspective, there are issues that dealers need to continue addressing in anticipation of customer demands, including online purchases, paperless and digital transactions. I also see the issues related to data collection and privacy impacting dealerships in the coming year,” he said. “The ability to attract and retain service technicians is also in the limelight as the processes to repair increasingly technologically advanced vehicles are quickly changing.”
Challenges around service technicians has been a major focus for NADA, including the work done by the NADA Foundation Workforce Initiative.
Retaining service technicians could be especially important as more franchised dealers put greater emphasis on fixed operations, amid factors like longer vehicle ownership periods and slimmer profits elsewhere in the dealership. What’s more, the service department could be a differentiator for franchised dealerships in the mobility landscape, as Ricart believes the number of miles driven by vehicles will increase.
“Dealers are shifting their business models to have a greater focus on fixed operations, which supports our ability to offer competitive pricing. For many years, dealership business models have been founded on the sales of new and used vehicles,” Ricart said.
“However, with increasing prices, consumers are holding onto their vehicles for longer, which allows dealers to offer quality service with the expertise that only a new-car dealer can offer,” he said.
Asked about the role franchised dealers would play in mobility, Ricart again touched on the service department: “Within the mobility ecosystem, there will be more miles driven by automobiles, whether you’re driving the car or you’re a passenger in the car, they’ll be more miles driven by each vehicle on the road.
“With more miles driven, additional service will be required, and this is where dealers can step in and provide repairs and regular maintenance,” Ricart said. “As I mentioned before, dealers are uniquely positioned to offer this service with their service technicians trained directly by the OEMs.”
A fine-tuned service operation also comes into play when looking at the advanced technologies in today’s vehicles. Because of such technologies in the cars, there is a “tremendous opportunity” for the service department of franchised dealers to provide the necessary “expertise,” he said.
“As newer vehicles become increasingly complex and technologically sophisticated, dealers have a tremendous opportunity in servicing these vehicles. The technical expertise on these newer vehicles requires a high level of training that has to come from the manufacturers because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to service,” Ricart said.
“The service technicians employed by dealers receive training direct from the manufacturer,” he said. “And it’s the dealers who invest the time and resources to ensure that we can service vehicles, and I see this driving more customers into dealership service departments.”