Ontario Motor Sales: Celebrating 100 Years of Community Ties

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An exterior view of Ontario Motor Sales today. PHOTO Courtesy Ontario Motor Sales

Four generations continue to evolve with customers.   

Oshawa’s Ontario Motor Sales will be celebrating their 100th anniversary in April 2023, but they’re kicking off the celebrations now.

Events for staff, customers, the community and local charities will be running throughout the year. “We’re excited to get back into the community and have live events,” notes Dave Baker, general manager at Ontario Motor Sales.

They’ll be working with the Canadian Automotive Museum, which is on the site of the original dealership, throughout the year. The store is planning parties for staff, family and dignitaries, while telling the history of the store as it ties to General Motors, Chevrolet and Oakland over the years.

It all started as a cutter and sleigh company that was bought by founder J.N. Willson in 1923, who then began selling cars. One of the first vehicles was likely similar to a Series C Classic Six, an open air vehicle with thin round wooden wheels and pneumatic tires.

Four generations

J.N’s son Stanley took over, and then his son Glenn. Now, fourth generation Tony Willson owns the dealership. Baker claims the secret to the dealership’s success is their involvement with the community. “From day one, they’ve been intricately involved with this community, and grown with them,” he explains.

During the second World War, there were hard times. The dealership survived by polishing turnips for the war effort. During that period, they sold and delivered maybe two cars. “It was involvement with local businesses and people that made the difference,” reports Baker.

Originally a Chevrolet and Oakland brand, Ontario Motor Sales has sold everything from entry level compact vehicles through to medium duty trucks and commercial heavy duty trucks. Now, the dealership is embracing electrification. Already there are electric vehicle chargers that are open to the public, but soon there will be more throughout the dealership.

The Chevy Bolt and Bolt EUV are the EV models available today, and Baker is looking forward to the launch of the all-electric Cadillac Lyriq, as well as the all-electric Chevrolet Silverado, Equinox and Blazer. He hinted at more models but quipped, “I’m not at liberty to discuss them.”

The future is electric

Baker predicts that by the turn of the decade, the store will be selling primarily electric vehicles­—not exclusively, but more than half. “The demand is overwhelming.” Electrification is about the next generation of consumers, and is the next evolution of the automobile business.

Like many others, Ontario Motor Sales is in the middle of the microchip struggle. The dealership has had to pivot from having a luxury of inventory and a wealth of choice, to dealing with shortages. They’re selling deep into their incoming inventory, and Baker explains that the majority of vehicles coming off the truck are pre-sold. “There is a customer name attached to more than 70 percent of the vehicles that come in,” he says.

Right now, the most popular models are the crossovers and SUVs, in all sizes. Baker estimates about 35 to 40 percent of the market are a mix of Trax or Trailblazer, right out to Tahoe and Silverado. Full size pick-up trucks have been popular for some time, and are continuing to be favourites.

And while the pandemic disrupted the business, it also gave the store an opportunity to look at different ways of doing business. “It forced us to pay very close attention to how our customers interact, and introduce them to new processes in the purchasing experience,” describes Dave Hicks, marketing manager at Ontario Motor Sales.

New layer of sales

Now, the dealership has added a new layer in the sales department to specifically handle inbound internet customers. Internet lead counts were going up, simply from consumers inquiring about a certain vehicles, as supplies were limited.

“Consumers wanted us to do things differently,” notes Hicks. “We listened to what they had to say.” The business model was evolved to make the whole transaction digital, for those who wanted it. “We got to be 100 years old by listening to our customers and paying attention to what’s going on.”

Some of the employees have been at the store for generations, and are doing business with generations of the same family. One gentleman started pumping gas at the store when he was 16, progressed into sales, and recently retired at the age of 82.

The dealership occupies a city block of space, and employs about 100 staff. Everyone is pumped about the upcoming celebrations, which will culminate in a vehicle raffle. Working together with Lakeridge Health Foundation, the local hospital, the raffle will kick off in December and the prize will be awarded on April 20, 2023.

The organization places value on employees and the community. Baker reveals,”I’m not sure there’s a better way for us to give back than to be involved with healthcare and supporting front line workers.”



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