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Americans Return to Car Dealers, Thwarting Expected Shift Online

The retail format people love to hate bounces back, thanks in part to the industry being forced to add tech tools during virus shutdowns.

Despite increased options to buy cars online, Americans are heading back to dealerships. Above, a customer peruses a Honda dealership in Southfield, Michigan, on May 26, 2020.

Despite increased options to buy cars online, Americans are heading back to dealerships. Above, a customer peruses a Honda dealership in Southfield, Michigan, on May 26, 2020.

Photographer: Emily Elconin/Bloomberg

In the middle of California’s lockdown, Mike Sullivan sold 160 cars in a week by delivering online orders to customers’ doorsteps.

Even though that total meant sales plummeted about 75% at his 12 dealerships in the Los Angeles area, Sullivan had reasons to be encouraged. He hustled to set up e-commerce after the state ordered the closure of many retailers, including car lots, and customers liked the new model.