The car industry needs to fight now to ensure car dealers are allowed to remain open if the country is placed in tougher tiered restrictions post lockdown, say leaders.
Car dealers have openly questioned the decision to allow DIY stores and garden centres to remain open during the second lockdown while they were forced to close.
And if they’re to avoid the same fate under tighter tiered restrictions that are rumoured to be replacing the national lockdown, lobbying efforts must ramp up to ensure car dealers escape a prolonged shutdown.
The SMMT has already made it clear at ‘the highest levels’ of the government that dealers are safe and need to reopen as soon as possible.
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SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: ‘While we understand the need to stem the virus’ spread, given that car showrooms are now proven to be Covid-secure, we need them to re-open quickly, and stay open.
‘We have made this clear in discussions at the highest levels of government as it will protect vital jobs in both sales and production at this particularly critical time for the sector.
‘A healthy new car market helps support a strong economy and whatever lockdown conditions are forthcoming they must make provision for car dealers.’
Dr Susan Hopkins, a senior medical adviser to the government, suggested this week that tougher restrictions would be needed either side of Christmas if curbs are to be eased for the festive period.
There are suggestions a new tougher ‘Tier 4’ could be implemented in parts of the country where infection rates are highest which could see non-essential retail continue to be forced to close.
Martin Forbes, president of Cox Automotive International, believes the industry needs to form a united front now to ensure that doesn’t happen.
He told Car Dealer earlier this week, in an exclusive interview you can watch below, that the government needs to listen to car industry leaders now on how dealerships are safe and Covid secure and he believes they should ‘absolutely’ be excluded from a ban on non essential retail opening under ‘Tier 4’ restrictions.
‘My personal opinion is without a doubt dealers should be open [in Tier 4],’ he told Car Dealer. ‘I feel passionate about that.’
Before the lockdown, the country had a three tier system and in Tier 3 areas car dealerships were allowed to operate.
Forbes added: ‘If the whole country is on a Tier 4 now [under the lockdown], do I think the whole country will move out of Tier 4 on December 2? Personally, no.
‘Pockets of the country may move into a Tier 3 and then Tier 2, but we won’t see a blanket across the country of moving down the tiers.
‘There’s nothing right now saying we’re going back to normal.’
He said he’d like the government to listen to the industry and its trade bodies before making a decision on what should close under Tier 4.
Forbes added: ‘I would like to see [the government] work more closely and listen to the likes of the SMMT, the NFDA and others and really listen to the contributions we bring into the marketplace.’
Marshall Motor Group CEO Daksh Gupta has openly questioned the decision to shut car dealers while allowing garden centres and DIY stores to stay open.
Tweeting from his local DIY store he said it was ‘odd’ they could remain open and car showrooms cannot.
‘Car showrooms have more space and see less customers than this,’ he said. ‘I bet DIY doesn’t contribute £82bn to the economy or employ 823,000.’
He even directed his anger at McDonald’s where customers can ‘order from outside, but you can’t get a set of keys for an unaccompanied test drive’ from a car dealership.
Robert Forrester, CEO of Vertu Motors, was equally flabbergasted on the day the lockdown was announced, tweeting: ‘Garden centres in November! – end of tweet.’
No decision has yet been made on how the lockdown will be eased, but the prime minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly said he wants it to end on December 2, as previously planned.
Business leaders in other industries have called on the government to make their plans clear on how the country will come out of lockdown and give them time to prepare for any changes they need to make.
The government reported a further 501 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Thursday, bringing the UK death total to 53,775, while there have also been a further 22,915 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK.
It was the second day in a row that the number of deaths had dropped, having fallen from 598 on Tuesday to 529 on Wednesday.
However, the majority of local authority areas in England (197 out of 315) have seen a rise in cases, adding to concerns restrictions may have to continue into the festive period.