Honda Canada: Rethinking, Reimagining

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Honda Canada President & CEO Jean-Marc Leclerc delivers an update on the OEM’s plans for the future. Photo: Honda Canada

President & CEO Jean-Marc Leclerc outlines some of the changes taking place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each year, the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association hosts its CADA Summit. This event provides the ideal opportunity for industry leaders to come together and exchange ideas.

For 2021, Honda Canada President & CEO Jean-Marc Leclerc took the opportunity to deliver a virtual address via Vimeo, highlighting how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Honda Canada and some of the takeaways and initiatives that have resulted from it.

Sparked new ideas

“The pandemic has forced us to rethink and reimagine many areas of our business to navigate through the crisis,” said Leclerc, but at the same time, has “sparked many ideas that will set a new course for the future of our company.”

When the initial round of government lockdowns took place in March and April 2020, Honda Canada, like other OEMs, saw its franchised dealer network forced to close showrooms and move the shopping experience largely online.

Leclerc noted that the introduction of these virtual showrooms and e-commerce tools weren’t designed to replace the in-person showroom experience but essentially serve as an extension of it when physical interaction simply wasn’t possible.

And while many of us do crave that physical, one-on-one contact, Leclerc says that the pandemic has essentially accelerated the online sales process, and even once restrictions ease, many of these virtual tools and solutions currently being offered will continue–becoming an increasingly larger and more important part of the vehicle sales transaction.

Harmonization of efforts

To make it all work effectively, Leclerc said that, “harmonization of OEM and dealer efforts on that front will be critical to ensure continuity for customers, no matter how they decide to interact with our brand. However, no matter where the technology leads us, our dealers will always be an integral part of the process to forge relationships with our customers.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only shifted customer expectations and enabled the use of new virtual tools to facilitate the vehicle sales and ownership experience, it has also caused OEMs like Honda Canada to review their relationship with their dealers and look for ways to enhance support virtually.

In Honda’s case, Leclerc explained that this includes aspects such as “better accessibility to field staff, more efficient use of time and enhancing the frequency and quality of communication.

Moving forward,” said Leclerc, “we will consider the benefits of a hybrid support model, combining both physical and virtual visits and foresee 3D virtual reality and other technologies playing a more important role—in, for example, remote vehicle troubleshooting, technician support, and training.”

A critical lens

Besides the support aspect, Leclerc mentioned that the COVID-19 pandemic has also caused Honda Canada “to look at our expense structure and marketing activities through a more critical lens,” and “to focus on the fundamentals of our business in order to optimize sales and profitability for both Honda and our dealer networks.”

Leclerc also noted that he encouraged dealers to do the same because “despite the financial impact of the pandemic on our business there is no indication of a reprieve on the massive changes that are transforming our industry.”

He also added that both OEMs and dealers need to “continue challenging convention on our business and redeploying resources toward those emerging trends that will pave our path to success in the future.”

In summing up, the Honda Canada President & CEO remarked, “I believe resetting these and other aspects of our business in what will be a fast-evolving competitive landscape will require unprecedented levels of cooperation and collaboration between Honda and our dealers.”

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