Lots of demand, few new cars on hand

New car dealers struggle to meet demand

Trevor Bradley is sales manager at Toyota Plaza in St. John’s. The supply chain shortages have shrunk his inventory lower than he’s ever seen. James Grudic/Kicker

James Grudic

Car dealers in St. John’s say business is revving up, but supply issues are putting the brakes on sales.

New cars are taking longer to get built and delivered to the dealers. Places like Toyota Plaza on Kenmount Road in St. John’s are seeing longer wait times for new vehicles, making their on-hand inventory more sparse than most can remember.

Trevor Bradley is a sales manager at Toyota Plaza. Nearing three decades in the business, he says the current conditions of supply and demand are new to him.

“My inventory is probably the lowest it’s been in 30 years,” he said. “We’ve never seen anything like it.”

During the early days of the pandemic, says Bradley, demand for new cars was low. High-demand components like semiconductors used to make computer chips were bought up and sent to make other products. Now the demand for new cars has surged, and manufactures are struggling to deliver on time without the precious silicon chips on hand.

Bradley’s dealership has been operating on a skeleton inventory, keeping just enough new vehicles on hand so people have something to look at and take for a test drive.

“It’s very difficult for us to try and sell vehicles if you can’t get to drive it, to get behind the wheel,” he said. “We can’t just sell from empty shelves.”

Bradley says his dealership has 295 new vehicles ordered for delivery, with 245 of those already spoken for with a cash deposit. If customers change their minds, they get their deposits back, but the cars are still coming.

“People can’t just give a deposit for something that’s a figment of their imagination.”

Dave and Josephine Quinton came to Toyota dealership on Wednesday to shop for a new sedan. After speaking with a sales representative, they learned the car they wanted was nowhere in sight.

“There’s a bit of a wait, about a six month wait to get the car we wanted,” said Dave Quinton. “They don’t have one car on hand of the model we want.”

“We were looking at a Camry, but they don’t have either one at all,” said Quinton.

Bradley has been in the business long enough to understand that people won’t want to commit unless they can get their hands on the car they want. The Camry hybrid the Quintons wanted is expected to be on the lot for a test drive in January.

“People can’t just give a deposit for something that’s a figment of their imagination,” Bradley said.

The Quintons still have a working Buick sedan they can keep driving until the spring when their new car arrives. In the meantime, Bradley and his sales team know their customers could end up wandering off to another nearby dealer.

“They’ll either have to wait, or I’ll just expect them to go shopping elsewhere,” said Bradley.

Even though the supply chain is making it tough to fulfill the orders they get on time, the mood at Toyota Plaza is optimistic. Bradley imagines a future where the business will keep ticking up, and supply issues will no longer bog them down.

“There’s light at the end of the tunnel,” said Bradley with a chuckle. “This year was better than last year, and I don’t expect it’ll stop anytime soon.”

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