As the debate rumbles on as to whether selling and delivering cars under the current lockdown restrictions is allowed – thoughts are turning to how it can eventually be done safely.
Current government guidelines suggest that selling cars online and then delivering them is ok – as long as the correct health and safety guidelines are followed – but there are still many dealers choosing not to.
Some argue that while theoretically they are allowed to sell and then deliver cars to customers, it still feels morally at odds with government lockdown advice. And that’s despite specific guidelines on what’s right and wrong being released by the NFDA to its members.
What is clear is that the industry is desperate to get back in business and solving this dilemma in a way that doesn’t contradict government guidelines, or upset the public, is one dealers of all shapes and sizes are desperate to facilitate.
Even manufacturers are scratching their heads. One told Car Dealer Magazine this week that they were having constant boardroom discussions about how they can allow dealers to sell cars again, but even at the top levels of the industry there are differing opinions as to whether to do it or not.
‘The longer this goes on the more manufacturers will be desperate to turn the taps on again if even to sell the inventory they have sitting in ports and compounds in the UK,’ said one manufacturer source.
‘The question is how do we do that under the current guidelines that doesn’t end up as a PR disaster.’
Until the government answers the industry’s biggest question – a simple one which we’ve asked many times: Are car dealers allowed to sell online and then deliver those cars? – then no one will know what’s absolutely right or wrong.
However, whether as a dealer you are choosing to deliver cars or not, most dealer bosses’ thoughts are turning to the future and what selling cars could look like when they’re allowed to go back to business.
There is hope that if the government adopts a phased reopening of the economy and retail that car dealerships could be included in those early stages. In Germany, lobbying by the industry’s powerful industry associations has seen car dealerships included in the first round of businesses allowed to go back to work.
There is hope that will happen here too. However, if it does, the way dealers operate could look very different indeed.
Firstly, are dealers allowed to be selling and delivering cars at the moment?
Ignoring the moral argument for now, the guidelines issued by the NFDA say they believe dealers can deliver sold cars if they follow appropriate health and safety measures. While the SMMT told Car Dealer Magazine it also believes ‘deliveries are allowed if appropriate social distancing and hygiene measures are in place’. We are still waiting to hear an official line from the government.
How do dealers start selling cars again?
It’s thought the easiest way to let dealers go back to work will be with an online e-commerce sales solution. That’s certainly what’s happened in the US.
This is something few dealers have in place now, though, and many will be fighting to get a solution live as soon as possible – especially if it’s the only way they are allowed to go back to work.
Neil McCue, chief operating officer of Snows Motor Group told Car Dealer Live yesterday that it had sped up the implementation of an online sales solution for its website as he sees this will likely be the quickest way back to work.
There will be many dealers following suit.
GForces has reported a 400 per cent surge in enquiries for its online sales solution in April, and it’s likely other web design specialists will have seen similar surges.
What does a dealer need to consider before selling cars online?
It might sound as simple as putting a buy it now price next to a car and a link to PayPal, but actually it’s far more complicated than that. Not only is the user journey vital, but there are legal complications to overcome too.
Distance Selling Regulations, which protect the consumer, will need to be considered carefully, especially the right to return the car the customer gets with it. These are onerous and will need to be carefully considered by dealers.
Lawgistics said: ‘Selling online is considered running an organised distance selling scheme, so customers could have the right to cancel the contract for UP TO A YEAR after delivery if they are not advised of the right to cancel the contract. Car dealers can also be prosecuted by Trading Standards.’
You will need to also think about how you cope with finance applications.
While there are many solutions to facilitate this, you need to have a robust procedure in place that lets customers do as much as they want to online – and with the ability to pick up the phone and talk to you about it if they need to. There are several third party suppliers who can assist you with this.
What about social distancing – how will that be built in to car dealers reopening?
It is likely social distancing measures will be in place for many months to come, or until a vaccine is found, so dealers need to consider how they are going to implement these for customers and staff when they reopen.
For customers, signs on the floor marking out two metre gaps between service desks will be needed. It’s unlikely allowing customers in to look around a car will be allowed in the first phase of reopening.
But these measures will be just as important for staff. Reducing the amount of staff when they are allowed back will be crucial, while also allowing those who can work from home to continue to do so.
Sally Smith, MD of Corkills, a VW and Hyundai dealer in the north west, told Car Dealer Live today that the plans she was considering implementing before lockdown has proved useful for how she will re-open her businesses when she’s allowed.
Are there any other health and safety measures to consider?
Many. And while we don’t know the full details it could include the use of face masks for all staff, regular sanitisation of frequently touched surfaces, and perhaps even perspex screens around service desks and other interaction points, like you see in supermarkets.
Let’s face it, if supermarkets are managing to operate safely – and with a far higher footfall than dealers – by following their lead there’s a good chance dealers could get back to work in a similar fashion.
What about test drives?
There are some dealers considering a booking system to facilitate test drives when they are allowed that could be carried out in the same fashion as the delivery of new cars (see below).
These would need to be unaccompanied for social distancing reasons, so insurance implications would need to be investigated, but using an online booking system and safe handover procedures is vital.
While this is unlikely to be acceptable under the current guidelines, in the future, and with some relaxation of the rules, it could be carried out with the appropriate measures put in place.
However, for that to happen, the government’s lockdown would need to be relaxed to a point where travel for things other than essential reasons is relaxed. That could be some time yet, so it’s worth planning to not be able to offer test drives for the foreseeable future.
How does a dealer go about delivering a car during coronavirus?
So this is the tricky one.
While under the guidelines online sales can be facilitated and delivered – just like Amazon is delivering parcels up and down the country – there are some that believe cars are not an essential purchase for most people and shouldn’t be delivered.
Parking that argument for a moment and assuming that the government says that dealers can go back to selling online and delivering in the near future, they will still need to take precautions.
Cars will need to be carefully disinfected, with key touch points wiped down, and the car handed over in a contactless fashion.
There are several companies offering advice on how to do this, including GardX. The paint protection experts have come up with a series of hints and tips on this including how to clean the car properly, what to wipe down and how to safely sanitise the car before hand over.
GardX MD Victor Coutin is clear it can be done safely they are advising dealers to take up its advice on how to do it. From GardX’s video advice tutorials Car Dealer has seen, this could be a way to give customers confidence again in buying and accepting delivery sooner rather than later.
Do cars need to be delivered on a flatbed truck or by a driver?
We’d argue the former is the safest way. It minimises contact with the car after it has been prepared and minimises the number of people travelling around to facilitate that delivery. Two cars travelling to the same location, one to drop off the purchase, the second to collect the driver doubles the danger and will likely be advised against.
Drivers also run the risk of being stopped by the police so the NFDA suggests drivers should carry documents with them from their employers explaining the journey is for ‘an essential purchase’.
How do you deal with part exchanges?
Now this is a tricky one. Not only is it very hard to price these vehicles at the moment, there’s also the health and safety aspect of picking them up safely.
If they’ve collected as part of a sale at someone’s home you will be effectively relying on them cleaning the car properly. So it’s safer to put in place protocols to follows for your delivery and collection team. This could include what PPE to wear, how to disinfect the car properly and what to tackle.
Delivery drivers for those companies who are still managing to deliver cars have privately contacted Car Dealer Magazine to say part exchanges are the part of the transaction they worry about the most, so it’s vital dealers get this right for a staff and customer well being perspective.
How do you deal with handovers?
This can be carried out using the multitude of video platforms available to dealers. FaceTime, WhatsApp video calls, Zoom, Skype – the list of platforms goes on and all enable sales people and dealers to carry out a thorough and interactive handover of vehicles to new buyers.
Yes, it will take a bit of practice, and as Carwow’s Mat Watson told Car Dealer Live last week, now is the perfect time to be practising.
What about collecting a car from the dealership?
While many dealerships have secure handover bays, often sectioned off from their main showroom, it’s unlikely traditional handovers will be allowed for some time.
Some dealers will argue what’s the difference between a customer coming to an empty showroom and an allotted time to a home delivery? However, with retail shut and a relaxing of the rules unlikely to allow a flood of customers back in, this option probably won’t happen for a while.
Equally, will customers want to travel to your dealership when they can have the car handed over at home? Probably unlikely.