By Kevin Kelley
Just how important is the Cleveland International Auto Show to local car dealerships?
Bernie Moreno, president of the north Olmsted-based Collection Auto Group responds to that question by asking, “How important is the Super Bowl to the NFL?”
Moreno said the show, running through Sunday at the IX Center, is “critical, critical, critical.”
“It’s the kickoff to the selling season,” said Moreno, who runs dealerships across Northeast Ohio that sell products from manufacturers ranging from Mercedes-Benz and Porsche to Nissan and Volkswagen.
The best incentives are offered around the Auto Show, he said, and, as a result, sales increase. At his dealerships, March is the second-best month for sales, second only to December, Moreno said.
He expects sales this spring to be of blockbuster proportions because of pent-up demand built up over the brutal winter.
Moreno is using the Auto Show to promote a new marketing deal he recently inked with retired IndyCar driver Bryan Herta and his auto racing team. A Herta Indy racing car is part of the Collection Auto Group display at the Auto Show, as is an Indy racing simulator. The person with the best time in the simulator will win two tickets to the Indianapolis 500.
The Collection Auto Group, which is expanding in the next year to the Boston and Miami areas, will have its logo on the cars of Herta’s racing group. Moreno said he hopes to infuse some Indy pit-crew speed and efficiency to his dealerships.
“It shouldn’t take a long time to service your car,” Moreno told reporters on Friday – media day at the Auto Show. Moreno said the goal at his service departments will be to fix customers’ cars within 45 minutes.
Some have questioned whether auto shows will remain popular, given the ability of consumers to research vehicles online and the growing practice of dealerships to cluster geographically on so-called “auto miles.”
Moreno believes auto shows will retain their popularity and importance. Many people view attending an auto show as an event they can enjoy with the family, he said.
But Moreno said each market is different. In the Cincinnati area, where Collection Auto Group also has a dealership, the auto show only lasts four days. In Boston, where Moreno began selling cars in his 20s, the auto show was a non-event; instead car sales spiked over the Presidents Day weekend, he said.
Chad Mayer, general manager at Nick Mayer Lincoln, in Westlake, said people have been coming into the dealership seeking free tickets to this year’s Auto Show.
“I think you’re going to see record attendance,” said Mayer, no relation to the dealership’s owner.
Like Moreno, Mayer believes demand for vehicles has built up over the winter.
Nick Mayer Lincoln usually sees a spike of 20 to 30 percent in sales in the weeks following the Auto Show, the dealership’s general manager told West Life.
“The traffic definitely increases in the showroom in March,” he said.
Extra inventory has been ordered in anticipation, Mayer said. The dealership also recently hired eight new salespeople due to anticipated higher demand and a renovation and expansion at the dealership.
While auto manufacturers send some personnel to the Auto Show, most of the people manning the displays are local salespersons. Vacations are cancelled during Auto Show week at Nick Mayer Lincoln, and sales personnel are scheduled for the show, Mayer said.
One vehicle they’ll be eager to show off is the new 2015 Lincoln MKC, a small premium utility vehicle. Lincoln has never competed in the small SUV category before, Mayer said. First introduced in November, the Lincoln MKC will be available in showrooms in May, Mayer said.
While the Auto Show does feed demand, Mayer said March is not necessarily the only good time of the year to buy, at least if you’re looking for a Lincoln.
“Realistically, the deals are good when the inventory starts building up and the manufacturer starts incentivizing the deals,” Mayer said. Lincoln began offering incentives in February, he said, and those won’t expire until the end of March. The deals were just as good in February as they will be in March, he explained.
Still, he said, the Auto Show marks the kickoff of the car-selling season in Northeast Ohio, if for no other reason than the media and dealership advertising have conditioned people to think that.