Iowa Dealer Jason Willis on His Group’s Recent Acquisition, Electric Cars and Franchise Rights Protection
Willis Automotive has been operating out of Iowa for 75 years, and this year they expanded by to acquire the only Nissan dealership in the Des Moines area. Today on Inside Automotive, we’re joined by Jason Willis, CEO of Willis Automotive and Chairman of the MINI National Dealer Council, to tell us more about his operation in Iowa and the strategies that work for his group today.
At the time of filming this interview, Willis Automotive has around 500 employees and represents nine new automotive franchises, including brands like Cadillac, Infiniti, Jaguar, Land Rover, MINI, Lexus, Volvo, Chevrolet and Nissan. The group also has two second-hand outlets and three large tire stores.
In May this year, Willis Automotive completed its acquisition of Nissan from Hummel, and Willis says he is delighted to add the brand to his group’s portfolio. As the group grows, it is essential to find dealers with similar or matching corporate cultures. Willis considered several different stores owned by the Hummel family, but the Nissan dealership stuck. He says the Hummel organization is full of great people and very involved in the Des Moines community.
However, Willis Automotive is still grappling with the same challenges faced by many other car dealerships. Typically, over the past few months, four of Willis’ nine brands have started the month with zero new cars on the lot. According to him, the ideal supply would be between 30 and 45 days. But Willis adds that the dealer-to-customer experience is better than ever. Customers now see Willis Automotive as a partner and the car buying process has become much cleaner with less price haggling.
When it comes to the growing market for electric vehicles, Willis says his group is in a unique situation in Des Moines, a community of 800,000 people. Between the capital and the next big city, there are about two and a half to three hours by road. So distance anxiety is a very real problem in the region. Although there has been an adaptation to electrification in the Des Moines metro area, Willis believes plug-in hybrid vehicles provide better mobility for Midwestern consumers in the near term. However, Willis is excited about the future. Its group of dealers is equipped with the necessary infrastructure and its employees undergo the training required to service and sell electric vehicles.
The main threat to franchise car dealerships, from Willis’ perspective, is direct-to-consumer sales or “agency models.” This is one of the main reasons Willis is so active with the Iowa Automobile Dealers Association.
“We want to be at the forefront of protecting dealer rights,” says Willis. “We also think the consumer really appreciates that dealer touch point…We think we’re the long-term solution to buying cars, even in the future.”
Consumers want the ability to purchase a vehicle from home, and Willis Automotive certainly provides that opportunity. But for the majority of his guests, the importance of the merchant is significant.
For more on Jason Willis, watch our full interview above.
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