Auto dealerships adapt to technological advancements, online buying

EXPANDING OPERATIONS Jay Gill is the president/CEO of Gill Auto Group, the new owner of Gilroy Chrysler Dodge Jeep RAM. Photo: Erik Chalhoub

From wireless charging docks to blind spot cameras in digital gauge clusters, the technology in vehicles is changing just as fast as the mobile devices that we carry with us everyday.

And that has changed the reason people buy cars.

Jay Gill, president/CEO of Gill Auto Group, which owns Gilroy Chevrolet Cadillac and the new Gilroy Chrysler Dodge Jeep RAM, said customers in the recent past would purchase a new car maybe every five or six years.

Now, that number has jumped to roughly every two years.

“I tell our staff that people aren’t buying cars anymore, they’re buying technology,” he said. “Technology is changing every day. More and more, people are trading up because of the technology.”

Gill Auto Group has taken over operations of the former South County Chrysler Dodge Jeep RAM at 455 Automall Drive, renaming it Gilroy Chrysler Dodge Jeep RAM.

The automotive group has owned Gilroy Chevrolet Cadillac across the street for the past 12 years.

Gill said the reopening of the dealership will help the city, bringing back about 50 jobs and roughly $30 million in taxable sales.

“It’s never good when you have an existing business and you have an empty building next to you,” Gill said. “It depresses the real estate market, it hurts the whole auto mall and it hurts the city. The car business is so competitive right now that you have to have scale. By having two stores next to each other, we’re able to have synergy.”

Gilroy CDJR General Manager Jose Lopez said many of the staff that lost their jobs when the South County dealership closed will be returning.

The store has an inventory of 300 vehicles.

Named the 2019 Large Business of the Year by the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce, Gilroy Chevrolet continues to support youth sports and other local organizations. 

Lopez said with the new dealership, the hope is to expand its community service.

“We are heavily invested in the community,” he said.

Gill Auto Group operates 10 stores across 13 brands, with dealerships throughout California and one in Hawaii.

Gilroy is its third Chrysler store. Gil said the brand has a number of top-selling vehicles, such as Jeep’s Wrangler and Gladiator, as well as the upcoming revival of the Grand Wagoneer, in addition to the always-popular Ram trucks.

“The product is just amazing,” he said. “That’s true for a lot of brands.”

The Gilroy Auto Mall has had some major developments following the early struggles of the Covid-19 shutdowns.

Nissan of Gilroy recently moved into its new 23,948-square-foot dealership at 6807 Automall Parkway.

In an earlier interview, owner Don Groppetti said the new facility and location is superior to its former spot at 400 Automall Drive.

The Hyundai dealership reopened with new ownership after being closed for most of 2020.

Buying online

Covid-19 has shifted many things to the virtual world, and car buying is no different.

Most dealerships, including Gilroy CDJR, allow customers to complete the buying process online. Customers can take a virtual 360-degree tour of a vehicle they are interested in, while talking to a sales person on FaceTime or other video conferencing apps, Lopez said.

Test drives are now done without a salesperson present in the vehicle, and vehicles can be dropped off at a customer’s house within a certain radius.

Lopez said with many residents unsure about using public transportation during a pandemic, there is now a “high demand for customers to be in a car.” Gilroy Chevrolet Cadillac, for example, went from selling about 40 vehicles a month early in the pandemic to more than 100 in recent months, well above the pre-pandemic numbers of 80 to 90 a month, according to Lopez.