If you think the car dealership lots in Cut Bank look a little bare, you’re not the only one. Many people are wondering where are the cars, trucks and SUVs that usually line the lots on Main Street.
Both Bell Motor Co. and Northern Ford know their lots are a bit sparse and they are wishing they had more new and used cars, but for the moment, there is very little inventory–and not just in Cut Bank but also the larger markets.
What we are seeing or not seeing today, as Jackson Bell, General Manager of Bell Motor Company, said, “is the result of the pandemic shutdowns across the country and for us, specifically in Michigan.”
He continued, “The State of Michigan had some of the toughest lockdowns and closures in the country starting mid-March and essentially forced the auto manufacturers to cease production which lasted into June completely halting new vehicle production. At the time, it didn’t seem like it would affect too much because the assumption was equally low demand. Internally, we braced for slow sales in the late spring, but that wasn’t the case. Against most industry predictions, the demand actually soared in the late spring, basically absorbing all sitting inventory nationwide.”
Josh Waller, General Manager of Northern Ford, shared similar views about production and shutdowns.
“When Ford Motor Company shut down due to COVID-19, Ford wanted to help take care of America and started making respirators. The shortage we see is from a three-month delay from the factories shut down and slowly starting back up. New cars will be back and Northern Ford is ready to help you through this unique time.”
He added that even though the Northern Ford lots look very empty, “We are still in business and giving the best service we can provide in a time when no one knows what will happen next month.”
Not having new cars for potential buyers has meant no older vehicles being traded in, which in turn means both dealers have seen less used cars on their lots too.
Waller said, “Used cars have become kind of scarce because we are not seeing the normal trade-ins we have seen in the past. Used cars are now coming to dealerships from other places you normally don’t see. Northern Ford is buying good used cars of any make or model from anyone or everyone that has a car they don’t drive or need. If you have a car you are not driving, stop on by and get an offer.”
“Dealers have been busy trying to find new ways to acquire used inventory and mostly that came from trying to buy vehicles directly from owners. We were able to find a couple good sources through friends and acquaintances, but generally speaking, it has been very difficult and expensive to find good inventory,” proclaimed Bell. “I think it is a scramble for all of us.”
Bell shared, “One thing that’s for certain through all of this, is nothing is certain. Predictions have been wrong three times over in the last couple months and there are a lot of things that don’t make sense or line-up with conventional wisdom. Dealers all over are having to be flexible and find creative ways to address the inventory issues.”
He continued, “From our stance, we are looking pretty good and have been able to find some inventory lately. We have a mountain of new stuff in the order bank and on the way. If you are looking for a new car or truck and want to stay local, I would urge you to be patient. Get in touch with any of us and let us know what you are in the market for. We have lots of trucks coming soon, so putting your name on one of those might be the best way to secure something this year. It is going to take a while to return to normal for the auto business, but we are working hard to bring the best cars and trucks to this part of the world.”
“This is not just a Cut Bank shortage,” stated Waller. “All dealerships in the state are feeling the squeeze, but it is all going to change soon. Northern Ford has over one million dollars of new vehicles coming, with many going to be here by the end of the month. In October, we will have a nice selection to choose from and we will be trying to find parking spots again soon. If you are looking for a new vehicle, but don’t see it on our lot, please come in or call. With lower overhead than the bigger dealers, we can give better prices and still get you what you need. It is a great time to shop local.”
He added, “Many customers have also been special ordering the exact vehicles they want, because right now, we are changing model years to the 2021’s and we will still be able to get vehicles built, just like before.”
Waller has been working at Northern Ford since he was a kid pulling weeds in the lots and sweeping dirt. When he returned to Cut Bank following time at college, he was selling cars on what was, at that time, his father’s car business. He has been the General Manager for the last three years.
“Every day, I not only feel blessed with all the jobs we provide for families, but also very blessed with how much the community supports us as we in turn, support the community,” Waller shared.
Bell came to Bell Motors after college in 2005. He said, “I’ve grown to really appreciate the opportunity to be in the car business in a rural town. It is very satisfying to play such an important role in people’s lives and be able to provide a service that gives back so much. Rural living is the lifeblood of our nation and we are glad to be a part of that.”