Coronavirus News: Auto industry struggling through coronavirus pandemic

NEW YORK (WABC) -- New car showrooms are closed and potential buyers nowhere to be found as the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down non-essential businesses.

Car dealerships in the New York-area are only open for essential repair work.

"The hit on the industry has been very, very dramatic," said Mark Shienberg, President of The Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association.

The association represents 420 franchised dealers selling a million vehicles a year and employing 71,000 people.

"Many of the dealers have had to lay off a tremendous amount of employees," Shienberg said.

Dealers like Marchello Sciarrino told Eyewitness News recently that his Staten Island dealerships are offering loaner cars to first responders.

He has laid off 340 of his 400 employees, leaving 60 to pick up the necessary work. But, he is still trying to help all of them during this very difficult time.

"We are going to make sure to do the best as a business to take care of them, financially and mentally. As soon as this is over we are ready to get them all back to work," Sciarrino said.

Also this time of year, the dealers would be getting ready for the all-important 120th anniversary of the New York International Auto Show at the Javits Center, a driving force behind new car sales.

It's now scheduled for later this year as the center is now filled with hospital beds and not the latest new vehicles.

"A million people come through the doors, excited about seeing the next product and making some decisions on it," Schienberg said. "And to not have that is a big change on it."

Auto manufacturers like Ford have found themselves in new territory as they turn to making desperately needed ventilators. GM is also partnering to build more ventilators.

In New Jersey, dealers can conduct online or remote sales. The car may be delivered to the purchaser or the buyer can pick up the car curbside in the dealership service lane.

In New York, dealers can sell or lease vehicles online and with strict protocols, but it's still unclear how customers will react down the road.

"This industry, while it will rebound somewhat, it will take it some time to get it back up to where it was," Shienberg said.

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