Don’t judge me too harshly, armchair thesauri, as I use the word “unprecedented” to describe the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the automobile industry. One is certainly in respectable company, as just about every other denizen of modern media has lately reached for this now absurdly hackneyed descriptor, one, two, three times, or more. And who can blame us? It’s true. The business, cultural, environmental, and driving-fun dimensions of car-dom are changing in ways few could have imagined, a dramatic portent for all things automotive.
With nearly 15 percent of the country unemployed and the future of entire industries in grave danger, new-car sales—usually considered a reliable bellwether of the American economy—have tanked. Many car dealerships, already under assault by the Internet of Things, are either going belly up or getting placed in medically induced comas, with socially distant sales and service work generating but a fraction of the income they spun scant weeks ago.