Some car dealers are operating at near normal sales levels so far this March – despite showrooms shut to walk-in customers.
In a sign that customers have become increasingly used to click and collect sales, dealer bosses are reporting positive showroom statistics.
Mid-way through the 21-plate change month, Car Dealer contacted several dealer group bosses to ask them how they were performing so far in March.
While many were still cautious, the overwhelming sentiment was one of positivity and better-than-expected sales performances.
Mark Raban, CEO of listed dealer group Lookers – the fourth most profitable group in the Car Dealer Top 100, said he was happy with the group’s current performance.
He said: ‘Given that the showrooms remain closed we are pleased overall with our order take levels.
‘Customers remain willing to engage via digital channels supported by click and collect.
‘Throughout Covid the sector has proved resilient, but we have to remain cautious.’
TrustFord boss Stuart Foulds – who runs the largest Ford dealer group in Europe and the 16th most profitable dealer group in the UK, according to our list – said he was now more hopeful for 2021.
He told Car Dealer: ‘New sales are running at about 80 per cent while used are pretty close to 100 per cent.
‘It is not as tough as it was previously, I think we’ve adapted well to the lockdown and using online, live chat, video etc well.
‘Demand for new is pretty strong driven by finance, PCP and Motability renewals. I think April, post lockdown, will retrieve any shortfall so I’d expect to be on track sales wise by the end of H1.’
This week, Auto Trader chief operating officer Catherine Faiers told Car Dealer that consumers were now more comfortable than ever with buying remotely – and forgoing the traditional test drive in the process.
The latter was seen as the biggest barrier to sales, but she said customers have got used to the 14-day money back regulations that come with distance sales and were comfortable to treat that as their test drive.
Hendy Group boss Paul Hendy told Car Dealer that his group was currently running at ‘75 per cent of budgeted levels’ across the group for new cars, which is better than he had planned for.
‘It is better than we were expecting, a testament to the positive attitude of our colleagues and the continued acceptance and adaptability of our customers,’ Hendy told Car Dealer.
He added that commercial vehicles were performing very well and were currently running at 100 per cent of normal levels.
Swansway Garages director Peter Smyth said the 21-plate change was ‘working out much better than expected’ for his firm, the 20th most profitable dealer group in the UK according to our list.
He said: ‘New cars are at circa 70 per cent and used cars are very strong.
‘You can’t make a comparison to last year because as we closed down on March 23 and the whole of the month was affected.
‘But we will be comfortably ahead of our 2021 quarter one predictions.
‘Aftersales has steadily improved since with January at 80 per cent, February at 90 per cent and so far we are at 100 per cent March month to date.’
Data released today from Dealerweb backs up Car Dealer’s findings.
It says new car orders among its dealer clients are down just five per cent and used down nine per cent on the same two-week period in 2020.
Suzuki, Mitsubishi and MG dealer Robin Luscombe, of Luscombe’s Leeds, said his used car sales were good.
‘We are enjoying a very buoyant start to the year, which follows the trend since June,’ said Luscombe.
‘Some brands are doing much better than others, but used cars are very strong, and we are going to be well ahead of last March.’
Luscombe said that looking back at the last 12 months he would never have expected them to be ‘as good’ when the first lockdown was introduced on March 23 last year.
‘I didn’t know if we would have a dealership to come back to when we had to close,’ he said.
‘Now, I don’t have concerns for the industry, or the dealership – I just hope we can all return to a safe and normal life.’
Tony Denton, of Batchelors Motor Group, winner of the 2020 Used Car Awards Best Online Sales Experience category, said he is concentrating on the rest of 2021, not March.
He said: ‘We’re seeing the level of new car business we expected. I wouldn’t say we have written the month off and there are buyers out there.
‘We have considered and subsequently geared our efforts more to April, May and beyond.
‘Our customers are telling us that they are ready to buy but they want the social interaction and thrill of buying a new car, in a showroom.
‘We are a retail outlet providing a retail TLC experience, something that is hard to purvey via a mouse. March will be what it will be – let’s worry about influencing the rest of the year.’
WhatCar? research released today reveals signs of significant pent-up demand with traffic to new car deals pages up 11.8 per cent.
‘Our metrics are once more pointing towards healthy demand building in the market,’ said Rachael Prasher, managing director at What Car?
‘This will be very positive for the industry.’
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