Let’s take a swab test on the automotive industry, shall we?
When the world started shutting down, automobile sales went down by nearly half the volume from the year prior. In latter months, sales performance has improved. Some retailers reported better sales numbers than last year in the same month.
While the COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on "business as usual" in the automotive retail sector, this industry made some adjustments and adapted to the health and social justice crises that arose this year. Customers welcomed having the opportunity to test drive and, even, complete their purchase at their homes. Service departments were able to swap vehicles with loaners for vehicles needing service with a lot of people working from home.
As things change, there is still the want of a new vehicle in our lives. The message from the automotive retail sector was "we're open, we're essential, we can help you get your next vehicle – no problem!" Yet, some potential customers felt like they were stuck in a bunker. If their vehicle did not come in a delivery van or a flatbed trailer – and left in the driveway – then why should they buy?
If it were me…well…
During this pandemic, I covered the change in retail strategies towards bring the sale closer to the customer on their doorstep. I also witnessed what transpired at both the sales and fixed ops end on how dealers are coping with this change in their business model to help get through this pandemic. It goes beyond just wearing masks and nitrile gloves at this point. It is how dealership personnel deliver upon providing an essential function to those stuck at home working away with spouses and kids running their stress levels beyond normal.
This is the background in which I have to publish this annual piece for Victory & Reseda. The consideration of "what if" towards the "how" and "what" of a potential at-home vehicular transaction.
Welcome to this year's version of "What Would Randy Buy if He Had the Money to Get a Vehicle" – the pandemic version.
The "what if" part is the easy one. The premise had been a part of this annual article for the past few years. The "how" part comes from the experience and observation over these past few months of retail operations that I covered or am associated with to select which ones I would trust to be on our property. Do I want any retailer to show up at the front door or the parking slab off of the alleyway with a potential new vehicle for me to purchase or lease?
From the "how," comes the "what." Based on the retailers that I trust and their inventories, which vehicles would I buy given the conditions we’re in with social/physical distancing, mask-wearing, and the ebb-and-flow of new cases popping up in hot spots across the country.
The one I will not do – because it isn’t really fair to exclude anyone in this process – is to identify certain retailers that these vehicles have been picked from. It could be anyone, whether they are in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market or not.
Now that I got all of the qualifiers out of the way, let’s dive into the 2020 list of what I would buy if I had the money, the awesome credit score, and the trust that someone will arrive with said vehicle at my home for me to sign off on.
That is, as long as I do not have that blasted virus…
VERY ESSENTIAL TRANSPORTATION – 2020 TOYOTA RAV4 LE AWD: This would be one of the toughest vehicles to choose from several potential models. I chose an SUV because I saw a need for interior space. In the end, I chose the RAV4 because it exhibited a lot of the attributes I am looking for in an essential vehicle to support V&R. The LE trim level already has a level of content I can thrive with – radar cruise control, smartphone connectivity, automatic emergency braking, and room for four adults my size. I would add a rear cargo cover and blind spot monitoring off of a package. I can compromise with the cargo space, as long as I can be creative in packing items for trips and such. With a budget under $30,000, there would be plenty of vehicles to choose from. Priced the way I want this RAV4, I just barely reached that budget. It should be worth it, you know! STICKER PRICE: $29,774.
FOR THE NOT-SO-ESSENTIAL JOB OF BEING A’IGHT – 2020 VOLKSWAGEN ATLAS CROSS SPORT SE w/TECHNOLOGY AND 4MOTION: Sometimes you have to balance practicality with some enthusiasm – within reason, of course. I love the Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport. It is a larger SUV that offers a lot for the price, while adding style, comfort, technology, and a spirited driveline. I would choose the powerful 235-horsepower 2.0-liter TSI turbocharged engine that will return better fuel economy over the V6. The SE trim level is not a complete compromise, but I wanted to add the Technology package that includes adaptive cruise control and other driver assistance features. The 4Motion all-wheel-drive system is a no brainer for life in Minnesota. When I reviewed this vehicle, I found it to be large and in charge, while delivering a smile on my face. The price is above average, but the Atlas Cross Sport is equally above average in its own right. STICKER PRICE: $40,065
TO FULFILL MY SOMEWHAT FANCIER TASTES – 2020 LEXUS RX 350 F SPORT AWD: According to the demographers, I am at the age range for this car. Yet, I am not offended. Also, I have listed three SUVs in-a-row, which may present its own questions towards my sanity and revoke any membership in the automotive enthusiast camp. However, this is my argument. The RX is the original luxury crossover. My workflow with this generation of this model stretches back five years. Thirdly, combine the updates for the 2020 model year with the break out of the Performance Package for the F Sport trim level. Now, you have a recipe for a very fun ride with a longer roof and a taller stance. I spent a lot of miles on the road in this vehicle and enjoyed every second of it. With the Performance Package, it simply adds that extra quotient of "kick butt" on the highway and around town. Not to mention, great dealership service from Lexus. STICKER PRICE: $60,980
SCREW YOU, I GOT ME A TRUCK – 2020 RAM 1500: Working with pickup trucks for the past nine years affirmed one thing for me – I am actually a truck guy, by heart. However, if you ask me which one I would actually own and enjoy for about ten years – it would be the latest generation of the Ram 1500. It is a truck that not only is engineered differently; it is really that good of a truck. I enjoyed each and every one that has come through my doorstep. As to which one I would own, that would be the difficult part. The only specifications that are certain at this point is the Crew Cab configuration with the 5.7-foot box and four-wheel-drive. From there, I cannot decide which engine I would have under the hood (the 5.7 HEMI V8, the 5.7 HEMI eTorque V8, or the EcoDiesel) and which trim I would want (it is between the Rebel and the Laramie). That’s the great thing about pickup trucks – you have choices! Lots of choices… STICKER PRICE: $61,400 and up
MY "MOVE OVER PEASANT" VEHICLE – 2020 LEXUS GS F: Wait, a Lexus? Not an Aston Martin or a Porsche? Or, a Rolls-Royce? I believe in being reasonable. I also go with experience. The RC F would be the obvious choice. Yet, as much as I love coupes, the sedan can also rock the party. It still has a 5.0-liter V8 with 467 horsepower. It still has those sport seats and that chassis set-up. I can get that in Ultrasonic Blue Mica. And, since this is the final year of the GS, it could become a collectable. But, is being reasonable – perhaps, sensible – means I am being, ahem, responsible? Sure…let’s go with that! Still, knowing the performance characteristics of the GS F, along with its balanced ride and rare commodity in this part of the world, this seems like a good choice in this category. STICKER PRICE: $89,510
Notice one thing from this list. I did not scale over $100,000 on any of these vehicles. Remember when that was a price that scared the living daylights out of you? On some level, it still does. However, the pricing seen on this list is a reflection of a reality that I have witnessed through this work. A truth that still put us in sticker shock.
The other thing about this list is how much license we have to find something we can enjoy through this pandemic and after it is all over. The GS F would be a spring-to-fall vehicle, but it would shine when we are able to go freely with our friends and without fear in the world. Everything else points to a practical side that makes sense in times like these.
It’ll be great to bring one home to continue to pump up the economy and boost the automotive industry. However, it is also good to have you around to enjoy it. So, keep on wearing your masks, wash your hands, and stay safe – we’ll get through this together!
All photos by Randy Stern