NJ CAR’s mission is to serve
New Jersey’s franchised dealerships in three major areas — advocacy, education and training and member services. The COVID-19 pandemic has tested the Coalition’s capabilities on all three fronts like few other challenges in our 102-year history. And NJ CAR staff have shown, time and time again, how valuable the Coalition is to dealerships operations, particularly when the industry faces unanticipated challenges. Let me highlight just some of the work done by NJ CAR in 2020.
In mid-March, Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco briefly shut down all dealership operations. NJ CAR quickly put together a grassroots campaign that generated more than 300 emails to Mr. Tedesco overnight. That effort, combined with NJ CAR’s lobbying of the Governor’s office, led to a quick reversal of Tedesco’s order.
Unfortunately, Governor Murphy soon imposed a statewide ban on all retail activity, including new car sales. Thanks to NJ CAR’s advocacy, dealership service departments were deemed essential and remained open. Dealers were also able to conduct remote or online motor vehicle sales. NJ CAR worked with state officials to interpret the initial order and advocated for clarifications and improvements to provide dealers with more explicit guidance and greater flexibility.
The Coalition also immediately began advocating for reopening motor vehicle retail sales, with dealers following strict CDC and OSHA safety precautions. NJ CAR ran public service announcements on television, conducted several media interviews and reached out to friends at the State House to advocate for the safe reopening of dealerships. The advocacy paid off. In mid-May, the Governor’s Order was modified to permit dealers to resume in-person sales. It was a huge victory because it would be another two months before any other retailers would be permitted to reopen.
Education, Training & Communications
NJ CAR training and communications have also been front and center throughout the COVID pandemic. The Coalition hosted a dozen COVID-related webinars, attended by more than 1,100 people since April. These webinars covered timely COVID-related topics, including employment law issues, online sales, cyber risk, business interruption insurance, the CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program application and loan forgiveness process.
The Coalition also sent nearly 300 email updates to keep members informed about the quickly evolving pandemic and the State’s response. Many of the communications were also published on the NJ CAR website, and the Coalition has maintained a massive social media presence, posting COVID and other industry-related issues almost daily on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Coalition staff also responded to hundreds of phone calls on dozens of topics related to the pandemic’s effect on the auto retail business. With information changing almost by the hour in the early days and weeks of the pandemic, the Coalition responded quickly to the evolving situation, providing dealers with the latest information and analysis.
While the Coalition offers a wide array of member service programs, either directly or through partnerships with best-in-class vendors, there is one particular service that has proven itself especially valuable during the COVID crisis — the NJ CAR motor vehicle agency.
Early in the pandemic, the State closed all local motor vehicle agencies for four months. But, because of NJ CAR’s unique dealer-only motor vehicle agency arrangement, we were able to continue offering service to our members with little or no interruption.
The NJ CAR agency shut down briefly to protect the health and safety of staff when the pandemic first hit. But we quickly assessed our operations, reorganized workflows and floor plans, created split shifts and were back up and safely operating faster than anyone could have expected, processing more than 500,000 titles and registrations since April 1.
Sue Sbarro, NJ CAR’s Director of Motor Vehicle Operations, and her entire team have been nothing short of extraordinary, putting in long hours under challenging circumstances.
NJ CAR also launched the NJ CAR Clean certification program, designed specifically for the unique challenges facing the dealership community. I encourage you to read the NJ CAR Clean article in this issue to learn more about the many benefits of this free program and how you can become certified.
The Coalition has served the New Jersey dealership community for more than 100 years and will continuously search for ways to bring greater and greater value to dealers, particularly when they are faced with unexpected challenges.
James B. Appleton