McClinton Chevrolet of West Virginia is the world’s oldest Chevrolet store with over 100 years of business. Since its founding 1915, it has remained in the ownership of the McClintons, making it one of the longest running family owned businesses in the auto industry as well. On this episode of Inside Automotive, CBT News anchor Jim Fitzpatrick is joined by the fourth-generation Dealer Principle for the McClinton Chevrolet store, Ginny Bowden, to discuss the status of her local market.
At McClinton Chevrolet, Bowden’s attention has shifted from the business’s easing supply chain and inventory needs, felt most during the COVID outbreak, towards the post-pandemic pressures facing the auto industry. Currently, her main concern is that dealerships could be reacting too early to signs of economic recovery. “Although we are increasing our inventory and day supply, it’s not up to what it should be and could be,” she explains. “A lot of dealers are kind of acting like we are at that level and slashing prices. I had hoped that we had learned some things from this tough couple of years but I’m afraid that we’re going to go back to our old ways.”
Used car prices have remained in flux since the start of the pandemic. Appraising vehicles and adjusting values with the market has become a delicate process at McClinton Chevrolet. Bowden explains that her team must frequently inform customers that their appraisals are subject to change. “[Their] offer is good for so long, because it is changing rapidly,” she explains.
Digital retailing has become an important tool for dealerships. Bowden notes that McClinton Chevrolet’s location in rural West Virginia has made it essential for finding and connecting with customers from further away. “We have to try and appeal to all consumers, and ages and preferences of how they want to do business,” she remarks. Some shoppers want to buy their car the “old-fashioned way,” while others enjoy the convenience of completing the longer portions of the process online, only visiting the store to test-drive their vehicle. Digital retail allows the business to accommodate both groups without sacrificing service quality.
While many dealerships are excited to begin offering electric vehicles, Bowden notes that the level of enthusiasm from customers varies wildly from market to market: “We have not really seen much interest from our customers or people in our area.” Customers of McClinton Chevrolet, she continues, are less receptive to the idea of abandoning their gas-powered cars due their better suitability for the region. Infrastructure is a primary factor in EV hesitancy, and, like many rural states, West Virginia’s combination of unfavorable terrain and spread out population is simply unsuitable for cars with limited driving ranges. “[EVs] are obviously the future,” she notes, but to what extent and how rapidly the technology will spread is anyone’s guess.
Affordability is also an issue in West Virginia. “This is a difficult state, we don’t have a lot of industry coming here or staying here,” notes Bowden. While McClinton Chevrolet has never charged over MSRP, shortages, interest rate hikes and inflation have made vehicles more expensive. Consumers and businesses in the area have struggled to navigate the economic headwinds, and without budget-friendly options on the market, many are choosing to stay out of the new-car market.
However, while the retail automotive sector is confronted with many challenges, the car business has stayed surprisingly resilient. As the oldest franchise in its brand, McClinton Chevrolet has survived many difficult encounters with economic pressure and fast-paced technological developments. Adaptability is one of the dealership community’s greatest strengths, and as the world adjusts to the post-pandemic era, the automotive industry will be at the forefront of recovery.