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Could Tesla's shift to online sales mean the end of your friendly local car dealer?

Robert Channick, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Automotive News

DOWNERS GROVE, Ill. -- Packey Webb Ford, a 57-year-old car dealer with an old-school jingle has bet more than $20 million on what it hopes will be the dealership of the future.

With car shopping migrating online and dealerships looking like the next bricks-and-mortar retailer poised to fall, Packey Webb built a gleaming 54,000-square-foot facility on the 10-acre site of a former junkyard in the southwest suburb of Chicago.

Opened in late 2017, the dealership features the usual floor-to-ceiling windows with panoramic views -- and a surprisingly small showroom.

The service area, however, is a different story.

"You could land an airplane in here," said Webb Ford sales manager Kevin Schmieder, gesturing to the 32 bays lined up to accommodate what has become the dealership's undisputed profit center.

"If there are no dealers, you're still going to have to have these cars serviced somewhere," said John Webb, 52, a partner in the dealership started by his father, Patrick "Packey" Webb. "That's where the future is going to be."

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Webb Ford has already outlasted many of Chicago's plaid-jacketed pitchmen from a bygone era, legends such as Harry Schmerler, "Your Singing Ford Dealer," and Celozzi-Ettleson, "Where You Always Save More Money."

But surviving in the digital age will take more than a good slogan.

When Tesla recently announced it was shifting all sales online and winding down its stores, the electric vehicle manufacturer sent shock waves through the auto industry, signaling perhaps the beginning of the end for your friendly local car dealer.

No more low-budget TV commercials, no more kicking the tires, no more giant inflatable tube men beckoning from lots with unbeatable deals.

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