New Car Dealers Cautiously Adding Jobs as Economic Outlook Improves

Over the past three years, auto dealers have been forced to trim their staffs to survive the global economic downturn and falling demand for their products. Now, many new car dealers who managed to ride out the storm indicate they will add personnel in 2011.

Recent improvements in the national economy, combined with increased demand for light vehicles have some dealers actively looking for new hires. The lack of competition that has resulted from last year’s massive dealership closings means more business for those who survived the cuts.

National Automobile Dealers Association chief economist Paul Taylor said, “The dealers need additional capacity to handle those customers.”

Employment at domestic auto dealerships fell below 1 million in 2009 – the lowest level since 1995 – according to the NADA. Over the previous nine years, the number had averaged around 1.1 million, and Taylor predicts the number for 2011 could reach above 1 million.

Phil Bres of the automotive recruiting agency Auto Careers LLC said, “We are presently seeing the largest surge in dealership hiring since the early- to mid-2000s.” He added, “This is being fueled primarily by increased business confidence for 2011 and a need to upgrade the leadership in underperforming departments.”

According to a poll conducted by Automotive News, 16 percent of about 330 auto dealerships surveyed said they plan to add additional staff in 2011. The survey also found that import dealers were “slightly more likely” to increased their staffs than those that sell domestic brands. Luxury car dealers were less likely to increase their payrolls than the so-called “volume” dealers surveyed.

CEO Ron Tonkin of Portland, Oregon-based Ron Tonkin Dealerships said he plans to add nearly 100 new employees to staff two new stores.

Gillman Companies president Stacy Tillman Wimbish said her Houston-based group of 11 import-brand and 3 domestic-brand dealers was forced to lay off 15 percent of its workforce in late 2008. With projected sales increases of 10 percent in 2011, the company plans to add salespeople, technicians and service advisors to meet the anticipated demand.

Louisville, Kentucky-based Sam Swope Honda World began adding new personnel in early 2010. General Manager John Hill said his dealership has seen year-to-year increases of 29 percent for new car sales and 15 percent for used vehicle sales. And Hill said, “Fixed operations had the best year ever.”

Despite the positive trend, however, many auto dealers remain cautious about adding new personnel.

Norwood, Massachusetts-based Boch Automotive exemplifies the cautious optimism expressed by some dealers. Despite already having reduced its workforce by 25 percent, the company’s vice president of operations Michael Shafman said it is “very careful” about increasing its payroll.

Habberstand Auto Group vice president Jeremy Alicandri said his Huntington Station, New York company has adopted new methods that allow it to operate with a smaller work force.  “Since the downturn,” said Alicandri, “a tremendous amount of technology and software has emerged that has allowed us to improve our operations.”

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