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Auto trade groups ask Trump for clearer guidance on ‘essential services’
Cars and other vehicles

Auto trade groups ask Trump for clearer guidance on ‘essential services’ 

A coalition of trade groups representing the nation’s automobile dealers is asking President Donald Trump to clarify that certain sales and leasing activities at franchised dealerships are considered essential services during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter sent to the White House on Monday, the group — consisting of the National Automobile Dealers Association, American International Automobile Dealers Association, Alliance for Automotive Innovation, National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers and American Truck Dealers — expressed its appreciation for federal guidance on March 19 that listed vehicle manufacturing, supply manufacturing, maintenance and repair facilities as essential services.

However, “The guidance made no reference to vehicle sales and lease operations that are typically conducted by franchised new-car and -truck dealers in conjunction with their service and maintenance operations,” the letter said. “As a result, some states and other jurisdictions have prohibited vehicle sales by dealerships.”

The trade groups are urging the president to amend the previously issued guidance and asking that any future executive order include the sale of light-, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles by dealers as an essential service. 

“A significant number of dealership sales transactions occur because a consumer or business is in immediate need of a replacement vehicle for basic transportation,” the groups argued in the letter. 

The groups said various transit services, specifically, have been reduced or eliminated because of the public health recommendations for social distancing. 

The National Independent Automobile Dealers Association, in its own letter sent Tuesday to the president, also asked that the recent guidance be updated to include auto sales and leasing as essential services.

“Whether in times of crisis or not, repairing a vehicle may not be a viable option,” NIADA CEO Steve Jordan said in the letter. “The vehicle may be declared a total loss, parts may not be available, the vehicle may simply be worn out or it may not be economically feasible to repair it.”

In a related move, the Center for Auto Safety, a consumer advocacy group, called on state and local officials to include motor vehicle repair and maintenance facilities, supply operations and roadside services as essential services. The nonprofit group said in a letter sent Monday that first responders, medical professionals and delivery workers depend on “properly functioning, safe and reliable” vehicles to do their jobs. 

“In other words, considerations regarding the transportation sector must include a recognition of the vital need for access to a working vehicle, as well as recognizing that such vehicles are often in need of repair, recall or emergency maintenance,” Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, said in the letter. 

Messages seeking comment were left with the White House and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which issued the March 19 guidance with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

Several states over the past few days have issued various stay-at-home orders or closures of nonessential business orders, with more expected to be announced. This has led to uncertainty as dealerships across states and municipalities seek clarification on whether they can continue to physically keep open sales and service departments.  

Other dealerships have instituted policies that minimize face-to-face interactions such as remote sales transactions via Internet sales departments and virtual software that allows customers to shop from home.

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