James Baggott

Comment: Will car dealers reopen on June 1? Now’s the time for clarity

Time 6:01 am, May 22, 2020

  • Car dealers still don’t know if they’ll be allowed to reopen on June 1 alongside other non-essential retail businesses. Here, Car Dealer Magazine founder James Baggott explains why now is the time for clarity 

It’s time for the uncertainty to end. The preparations have been made, the car showrooms are ready – now all car dealers need to know is that June 1 is Reopening Day.

Alongside the rest of Britain, they closed their doors to help with the national effort to fight coronavirus. During those dark days for the country they helped their communities, protected their staff and their businesses.

But now the time has come to let car dealerships know when they will be allowed to reopen. 

Car dealer bosses up and down the country have been watching on as garden centres open their doors again – knowing that the preparations they have made to their showrooms could mean they could open their doors again safely now too.

Following guidelines drawn up by industry bodies and the government, car dealers have been creating space for social distancing, adding PPE where needed, plastic screens to shield staff and spending hundreds of thousands on the other equipment needed to get retail ready once again.

But yet still there is uncertainty.

Few would argue the government has done an amazing job supporting people and businesses through this difficult time. But now all car dealers want is some clarity.

Will car dealers be allowed to open on June 1? And if not then, when? 

Car dealer and manufacturer bosses I’ve been speaking to over the past few weeks are desperate to open – but they also understand if now is not the right time what they need to do.

All they’re asking for is a date to work towards and the knowledge that, yes, they will be included in that first wave of non-essential retail businesses allowed to reopen.

It’s very telling that today the SMMT has issued a call for car dealers to be allowed to reopen. They make the valid point that with the government insisting manufacturing continues – and in fact it has done throughout this crisis – that those cars being made need to be able to be sold.

Car factories didn’t stop turning because they were forced to by the government – it was more to do with the fact that demand for the huge, unstoppable machine dried up. And there’s no point pumping out cars at a rate of hundreds a day if they’re only going to end up in a field. 

Car dealerships are known for their processes and professionalism – and they’ve shown that in the preparations they have been making for reopening. 

Just look at this video from Wessex Garages explaining the lengths one dealer group has gone to get ready to open. This was produced 11 days ago – they were ready to reopen then.

And there are hundreds of other car dealers like them – patiently waiting, diligently preparing.

Car dealers have the space to allow for desks to be moved further apart, cars can be removed from showrooms to allow for distanced walkways and they have plenty of space outside to do business too.

They support a huge number of jobs – 590,000 in the UK, no less – and a huge proportion of them are on the government’s furlough scheme costing the tax payer millions every week. Getting those people back to work is vital for the economy.

Even the government is encouraging people who cannot work from home back to work – that should absolutely include car salespeople.

With Boris Johnson pleading with workers not to use public transport, demand for cars is already increasing. The classified websites are telling me traffic is increasing day on day – but we need to make it easier for these people to complete those transactions.

People need cars, they need to get moving, and car dealerships can help them do that.

Yes, the acknowledgement that click and collect was allowed during this time was a welcome step, but it’s not enough.

Although car buyers are turning to dealer websites to complete purchases in their droves – now more so than at any time in their history – but there will always be a diehard bunch of buyers who’ll want to see, feel and try out their new car before they buy in a car dealership.

The SMMT summed it up perfectly in its release today: ‘Dealers have been preparing to reopen for weeks, with many already offering click and collect. New cleaning and test-drive processes, appointment systems and showroom layouts will keep customers and staff safe, helping get Britain back on the move.

‘Car showrooms are some of the easier retail premises to accommodate social distancing. They are generally spacious with outdoor areas, and can easily allow measures such as one-way walkways, shielding, and contactless transactions.’

We all know it’s time to get back to business in a safe, socially distanced and responsible way. Car dealers are ready to reopen on June 1 and play their part in getting Britain jump started – now all we need is confirmation from the government that they’ll be allowed to do it.

James Baggott is founder of Car Dealer Magazine – launched in 2008 – and has been covering the UK automotive industry for 12 years and motoring for 20.

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James Baggott's avatar

James is the founder and editor-in-chief of Car Dealer Magazine, and CEO of parent company Baize Group. James has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years writing about cars and the car industry.

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