The pandemic is prompting carmakers to replace large-scale, in-person training sessions on new products with online events, a trend that some dealers worry will become permanent as companies seek cost savings amid plunging car sales.
Honda Canada, for example, is moving its product introductions online and considering measures such as using movie-trailer-style production values and hiring celebrities to keep personnel interested and engaged, said company President Jean Marc Leclerc.
The resulting cost savings over hosting dealer meetings and events might make returning to the old way of doing things difficult to justify, he said.
“Putting on live shows is very expensive,” Leclerc said. “You forget the millions that you spend on auto shows, dealer meetings, official launches. That’s always top of mind, especially now when our finances are a little tight because we’re not able to sell as much.”
Steve Chipman, CEO of Birchwood Automotive Group in Winnipeg, thinks taking in-person interactions out of the equation permanently would be a problem.
“I think there will be [fewer in-person events], but eliminating them would be detrimental to the concept of a dealer network. Digital, unfortunately, cannot replicate genuine human interactions. I always enjoyed [automakers’] in-person training for comparative ride-and-drives.”
The pandemic’s isolation measures hit just as Genesis Motors Canada was preparing to launch the GV80 tall wagon. Typically when new products are released, the brand hosts dealer principals and sales and service staff from across Canada at a single event. It employs highly interactive training methods such as one-on-one sales simulations to assist with engagement.
Genesis sees significant value in these events and plans to return to them as soon as is feasible, said Alexandra Miziolek, manager of training and operational excellence for Genesis Motors Canada.
In the meantime, Genesis is delivering group training through online video calls and is fostering a sense of gathering by bringing in professional yoga instructors for break sessions and offering lunch through food-delivery apps.
David Tran, experience manager at Genesis Markham in Ontario, said he understands the limitations created by the health crisis, but he values in-person training sessions.
“I’ve met a lot of very intelligent other [Genesis experience managers],” Tran said. “Having the opportunity to sit with them and bounce back ideas on how to overcome obstacles that we have ... it does help.”
Subaru Canada delivers training through an internal online platform called Subaru Academy, but until now this system has been used in conjunction with large training events across the country where dealers would gain hands-on drive experience with the brand’s vehicles. The intention is to return to in-person gatherings as soon as possible but on a smaller and more local scale, said Christina Morris, manager of product training for Subaru Canada.
“We will still have drive events, but the drive event experience is going to look and feel different than it did in the past. Group sizes might become smaller, making sure that each vehicle is thoroughly cleaned after participant use.”
Alex Digenis, dealer principal of Subaru of Niagara, said that his product representatives gain hands-on experience at events such as off road challenges and comparative testing against other brands, which cannot be replaced with online training.
“It’s a very long-lasting halo that they maintain after they come back from these sessions,” he said.