Comment: How the UK car sales industry can – and will – recover

Time 12:24 pm, March 20, 2020

THINGS MAY all seem like doom and gloom in the industry at the moment but hope is on the horizon.

That’s the word from Autocar editorial director Jim Holder, who has been examining the situation in China, where the coronavirus crisis started – and there’s strong evidence that just as sales absolutely tanked there, they’ve also been relatively quick to recover.

In an opinion piece for the publication, he notes that not only did factories and dealerships shut down after the outbreak in Wuhan that quickly spread, people also simply lost interest in buying vehicles – not helped by the fact they were in lockdown.

Registrations in China dropped by an alarming 92 per cent year on year in the first half of February. In addition, whereas the industry enjoyed 1.8m registrations in January, that was down to 250,000 in February. But – and this is a very important but – the industry was already adapting. By the end of last month, the year-on-year fall was 81.7 per cent, while for the first half of this month, that figure had slowed drastically to 47 per cent. As Holder puts it, that’s more than halfway to recovery in a matter of weeks.

Now, having been the source of the outbreak in December, Wuhan says there have been no new domestic cases of the disease.

The tide has well and truly turned there, so with stringent precautions being put into place in the UK, it can only be a matter of time before it does here as well.

Decisive action

Holder writes that having spoken to various well-placed sources in the automotive industry, their responses to the fall-out here were all similar.


The main thing was to continue working and take decisive action – said to be vitally important to business recovery. Unsurprisingly, they saw that internet traffic had soared – a massive source to be tapped. Not only that but people were still really keen to buy a vehicle. As such, staff numbers were increased for online sales channels to cope with the demand: one source said online sales had rocketed from a few hundred to many thousands.

What else can be done? Simple – home deliveries. It’s easy to maintain social distancing while doing so. Popping keys and paperwork through the letterbox is one way, although China has gone so far as to use drones and robots. And if it works, why not?

The main thing is to act quickly. Holder’s sources have identified ‘a pipeline of pent-up customer demand’ waiting to be capitalised on.

And dealers should make sure they offer choices to people to meet their expectations – for example, do they want to collect the car themselves or have it delivered?

Ultimately, Holder observes, the coronavirus crisis will inevitably mean change – but as he also says, the value of the automotive industry won’t.

Pictured is a passenger giving a peace sign as coaches carrying coronavirus evacuees arrive at Kents Hill Park Training and Conference Centre in Milton Keynes after being repatriated from Wuhan in February. Photo: Aaron Chown/PA Wire/PA Images

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