SPRINGFIELD | The Federal Trade Commission criticized the state’s longstanding prohibition on Sunday car sales in a letter issued this week.
The FTC characterized the ban as anticompetitive and harmful to the auto sales market, and suggested that its repeal could have a positive impact on consumers.
“Sunday closings impair competition and harm consumers by making it more difficult for consumers to search for the vehicle that best meets their needs and the dealer who offers their desired car at the lowest price and best terms of sale,” the statement reads.
The FTC issued the comment at the request of state Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, who introduced legislation earlier this year that would reverse the state’s 30-year-old prohibition on Sunday car sales.
“A majority of states allow automobile sales on Sundays, and car dealers in Illinois should be free to choose whether they wish to be open or closed on Sundays without government interference,” said Oberweis, who is the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.
Illinois car dealerships have been forbidden from conducting sales on Sunday since 1988, when the ban was instituted with broad industry support.
Larry Doll, who serves as legal counsel for the Illinois Automobile Dealers Association, says the industry still supports the ban for a number of reasons.
“One thing (the FTC) kind of dismissed is the fact that there’s pretty much no banks open on Sundays, which makes it pretty hard to retail a vehicle,” Doll said. “Customers usually don’t come in with a suitcase full of hundred dollar bills.
“You want to make sure they have the funds before you retail a $30,000 vehicle. The dealer needs to make sure that the check’s good and that the financing is there," Doll added.
He also argued that customers take longer to deliberate on a car purchase, so a single day’s closure won’t affect a sale.
“A vehicle isn’t an impulse buy, so there’s a lot of planning that goes into that ahead of time,” Doll said. “I don’t think that extra day is going to have an impact.”
The additional day of operations would also make it harder to recruit a skilled sales force, he said.
“One thing we have to worry about is just being able to attract and attain quality employees,” he said. “People want a day where there can be scheduled days off.
“If they feel like they have to be there seven days a week, they’re gonna be run right into the ground and find a job in another industry.”
Oberweis argues that competition is the best way to set hours and minimize costs.
“We need to rethink the weak argument that car dealers should be closed Sundays to give their employees a day off and keep costs down,” he said. “Plenty of other employers and stores set their hours – with full consideration of what their competition is doing – without input from the government.”
But Doll says he doesn’t expect to see the law changed anytime soon.
“I don’t think there’s much support for [the legislation],” he said. “I haven’t seen much support for it out of the legislature, and I haven’t heard a lot of people clamoring for dealerships to be open on Sundays.”
Oberweis’ plan needs approval from the Senate Transportation Committee before the legislature can make a decision.
“Senate Bill 2629 should not be bottled up in committee,” he said. “It should be sent to the Senate for full, public legislative debate.”
With the deadline for committee approval already past as of Friday, Oberweis’ plan is likely off the table for this session.