Car dealers have described the news they will be closed for another seven weeks and only allowed to operate via click-and-collect as a ‘devastating blow’.
Prime minister Boris Johnson has said non-essential retail will reopen on April 12 at the earliest as he set out his road map to ending lockdown today (Feb 22).
It will mean test drives for new and used cars will remain off the table until at least April 12 and new and used car purchases will have to be made online.
Car Dealer has been chatting to dealers and industry experts about the news and gathered their thoughts here.
Why can’t we open our forecourts?
Tony Roberts, Magna Group
I’m empathetic to the government’s policy and the strategy to safely come out of lockdown in the hope it will ensure we protect our health service to allow important medical procedures as well as the treatment of Covid patients to continue – and avoid any chance of again needing to lockdown.
But why can’t the motor industry in England replicate Scotland and be able to at least reopen our forecourts?
SAGE state with high confidence that outdoor gatherings have a low impact on transmission.
So why aren’t we allowed to, at the very least, conduct some level of business in the open air? Especially, as by May, the proposal is we can go watch a game of football with 9,999 others!
Proud the industry has pulled through together
Peter Waddell, founder of Carzam and CEO of Big Motoring World
While this doesn’t affect Carzam, it is annoying we won’t have showrooms open until April 12.
But I must say I am incredibly proud to work in an industry that has been so resilient and managed to pull through together.
It is crazy that we cannot open until April 12, but we have managed to show that we can operate online and what an achievement that has been.
I have loved seeing the industry work together as they have done this past year.
I would like to see help from the suppliers now, though.
They know we are closed for another seven weeks and I’d like to see further support from the likes of Auto Trader and CarGurus so we can reopen with a bang.
It’s a deadly blow
Stuart Foulds, chairman and CEO of TrustFord
This news is a deadly blow for our industry – car dealerships are safe environments and to hamper March, which is the biggest month of the year, inflicts even more pain on the motor industry.
49 days and counting
Daksh Gupta, CEO of Marshall Motor Group
Some people will be disappointed with the news today – but I am viewing it as 49 days and counting…
Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive
The automotive industry understands the priority must be to get the virus under control. Nevertheless, the fact that retail showrooms must remain closed until April at least is deeply disappointing, given these facilities are Covid-secure, large premises with low footfall and able to operate on an appointment-only basis.
While click-and-collect can continue, this does not replace the showroom experience on which so many retail customers depend, especially in the all-important March plate-change month that represents one in five of annual new car registrations.
We look to the government to work with the sector to provide ongoing support and clarity so the industry can plan its reopening and recovery.
We don’t want a lockdown four
Darren Ardron, MD of Perrys
It was not a surprise – clearly, we would have liked to see showrooms open earlier, but also it is very important we don’t rush this and get a lockdown four.
My view is April/May will become the 2021 March, so let’s just accept the decision, move on and do the best we can and look forward to reopening.
Disappointing lobbying hasn’t worked
Adam Turner, MD Chorley Group
I think this was the news we had all expected and ultimately understand. It’s disappointing that our industry lobbying hasn’t seemed to have any impact throughout this pandemic, though.
However, we now at least have a clear roadmap and can hopefully plan and budget accordingly and without the need to amend the plans again.
Our click-and-collect/home delivery actually saw us report increases in overall profitability YOY in January and saw an increase in new car sales across the group. Used cars have remained relatively resilient at 75 per cent of 2020.
I think we all need to be thankful our industry can still operate in some capacity, and when compared to others in hospitality and tourism we have had an easy ride.
Online is still creating opportunities
Chris Wiseman, MD of Wessex Garages
It is clearly disappointing to see that we cannot reopen until April 12. I’m sure that many dealer groups have already brought back even more staff to try to attack the biggest market possible, and it remains a mystery why showrooms cannot open and the government would not want to generate the VAT revenue available in March.
I suspect many customers will end up waiting until April, particularly conquest business, which may mean a bigger quarter two than normal – only time will tell if it is as big as March would have been and if we see a similar uplift as in quarter three last year.
We will continue to promote click-and-collect and the 14-day return policy, albeit there are inherent risks associated with this, particularly with the immediate depreciation on new cars with one previous owner, and unwinding complex finance deals. This will need careful handling.
Online is still creating lots of opportunities and our ability to electronically sign all documentation is proving invaluable.
Why not open outdoor forecourts?
Will Blackshaw, MD of Blackshaws
I am feeling a little gutted as it’s now going to be open one month in over five – we could be operating safely and had hoped to at least have the outdoor forecourts open sooner.
We have to play the hand we’re dealt
Robin Luscombe, Luscombes
This was not unexpected. We have been running for two months in lockdown three without any issues, so don’t see a problem financially with another six weeks.
The issue will be worse for staff on furlough, but the number on furlough is much reduced compared to lockdowns one and two.
I think we can look forward to enjoying pent-up demand in mid April and May. We just have to play the hand we are dealt the best we can.
Great to have a date to work towards
Tom Jaconelli, director of Romans International
I think this cautious approach and phased lifting of the lockdown seems sensible and it’s great that we now have some dates to work towards for getting back open to the public.
Business has actually been thriving in recent weeks, with click-and-collect proving to be increasingly successful. So as far as we are concerned, whilst this is very welcome news I don’t think there is going to be much of a dramatic effect on trading.
Govt has no idea how we operate
Umesh Samani, chairman of the Independent Motor Dealers Association
In reality I think we all knew the announcement wasn’t going to be great news for the industry. We’ve been bundled in with retail sector from the outset, which was wrong. The government still have no real idea of how dealers operate and how safely we can transact vehicle sales.
Dealers must remain positive. At least we now have a date to work towards to ensure that we really are ready for the opening – not that there might be a massive influx, as many dealers are still doing a lot of business in the new way of click-and-collect/delivery.
Hopefully those still wanting to feel, touch, smell will be more encouraged to start visiting in April.