As dealerships reopen, making sure customers — on edge due to the coronavirus — are confident their serviced cars are clean and germ-free has become a top priority.
Antimicrobial treatments for vehicles have become increasingly popular at dealerships. In many instances, dealerships provide the cleaning for free. But in the past two months, antimicrobial treatments as F&I offerings have experienced a 20 percent market-share gain compared with last year, according to F&I product provider Portfolio.
When dealers needed a product to sanitize cars in their service departments, Cilajet — a supplier of aviation-grade paint and metal sealants — started manufacturing an antimicrobial solution. The product, which was offered as a free service to front-line workers in some stores, is making its way into the F&I department.
“We are working with major administrators to ensure that there are some good and valuable F&I benefits to be added. That’s currently in progress,” said Brady Jones, executive vice president of Cilajet.
Fields Auto Group, a dealership group that sells Cilajet, is working to include the antimicrobial treatment in its vehicle interior and exterior program. For now, the sanitizing is complimentary at its stores.
Andy Hilling, financial services director at Fields Auto Group, told Automotive News that more than 90 percent of customers are accepting the free Cilajet service.
Dealer Owned Warranty Co. has an antimicrobial product called 360 Shield. Company founder Michael LaMotta said: “This is really something I think the customers want, and dealers want them to have it.”
The product has been distributed to more than 100 dealerships and dealership groups since the beginning of April. The product’s warranty will cover any growth of microbials, and the company will be responsible for getting the vehicle back to its original state, LaMotta said.
There is opportunity to make money off this product in the F&I department, but LaMotta said dealers “are not interested in overcharging for this.”
Flemington Car & Truck Country of New Jersey, a carrier of 360 Shield, is providing the treatment for free. General Manager Charlie Smith said that the dealership is in the early stages of adding it to the F&I offerings. One plan for 360 Shield is to let each customer determine how often the product should be applied to a vehicle.
The priority right now is not profit; it’s the safety of people, Smith said.
Erik Gordon, a law professor at the University of Michigan, said there are some unknowns when it comes to antimicrobials. For example, it’s impossible to know exactly where the droplets land upon application or how long the products will last.
Phil Battista, CEO of Darwin Automotive in Iselin, N.J., said it is important not to sell these antimicrobial treatments as a product that eliminates COVID-19.
“They can’t substantiate the claim that no one is going to get sick in that car at some point,” Battista said.
Cilajet’s Jones also said the product kills the virus but does not kill the disease — which some brands are inaccurately marketing.
Antimicrobials were around and accessible before COVID-19, but demand was not as high.
“A year from now, if we are past COVID-19, I don’t think they are going to be selling much of this,” Gordon said.
LaMotta also told Automotive News he expects the demand for the product to subside over time.
Experts, suppliers and dealers all said that the coronavirus has made people more aware of the cleanliness of the world around them.
“It is our belief that we are going to emerge from this a changed society,” Jones said.