Sean Kelly, MD of Vines BMWSean Kelly, MD of Vines BMW

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Vines BMW boss: Even if car dealers can’t open for weeks, April will just become the new March

Time 3 months ago

April will be ‘the new March’ and there are still plenty of reasons to be cheerful, according to the boss of a BMW dealer group.

Sean Kelly told the Car Dealer Podcast that he has sold more cars already in February than he did in the whole of January as ‘lockdown fatigue’ leads people to splash out once again.

Speaking exclusively on Friday on our latest Podcast, Kelly says he doesn’t think car dealerships will be allowed to open in March.

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Prime minister Boris Johnson is due to unveil his road map out of the lockdown, including outlining when non essential retail will be able to open again, later today.

He said: ‘There’s no doubt that in the last 12 months customers are more comfortable buying online and click and collecting, of course they are – the trade is in a much better place to service that too.

‘But there are still a huge amount of people that want to look in the eyes of the people they’re doing a deal with, drive a car and, to be fair, get the experience of the brand they are buying from.

‘It’s not just about the metal it’s about the experience and the excitement of buying a new car.

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‘March is critical, but that said, I just can’t see there being an early adoption [for car dealers]. I appreciate that’s what happened the first time round, but I think the world is in a slightly different place now.

‘I think there are lots of retailers who could make a legitimate argument as to why they are Covid Secure, in fact the vast majority of businesses are Covid Secure.

‘I just don’t see that cake of non essential being sliced.’

Kelly was speaking following news on Friday that the SMMT and car industry leaders have been lobbying the government to be allowed to open two weeks ahead of other non essential retail.

It looks likely the PM will keep non-essential retail closed for all of March, a key month for new car dealers as the 21-plate change arrives.

Kelly added: ‘Irrespective if it’s click and collect in March, all that will happen is that the demand pattern will just be delayed. 

‘I don’t think those purchases are going away and I think that once the good news stories of vaccines and the reopening start, there will be such a ground swell of positivity and consumer confidence that April this year might just be the new March.

‘I see that wave going straight through to the middle of the year and then depending on what happens with foreign holidays – whether they are good, bad or indifferent – I am hoping there is a little bit of suppression of that and that might just make people think more about spending more on themselves, or a UK holiday and that could mean a new car.

‘There might be a double win for us from both ends.’

Kelly said the messages he’d read from dealer bosses on Car Dealer were ‘absolutely the right’ ones and said that if he was speaking to ministers he’d be saying the same thing.

He added: ‘You have to over emphasise to make the point and the comments [about opening in March] are absolutely the right message. I’d be saying the same that it is mission critical to be open.

‘But I think, equally, it is about changing our mindset.

‘We set our businesses and budgets out for a significant start to the year and the vast majority of that is around a healthy March so it is just part of our in-built expectation that we close off the first quarter with an absolute firecracker. 

‘This year, rather than a Roman candle, that might just be a penny banger.’

Kelly said the very notice that non essential retail will soon be allowed to reopen – even if that is in six weeks’ time – will be enough to get the phones ringing again.

He added: ‘People will be thinking about the opportunity and the news will have an immediate impact in terms of enquiries, prospect and activity. Then it’s our job as dealers to encourage them not to wait. They can do it securely and remotely now.

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‘We can’t control what is going on outside, but we can control the decisions we make in the business.’

During the exclusive interview, Kelly also talks about Cazoo, Jaguar’s decision to electrify its brand and reports Tony Bramall could be set to make a bid to take Lookers private.

You can listen to the interview in the embedded player above or find it on your favourite podcast platform now by searching ‘Car Dealer Podcast’.

James Baggott's avatar

James is the founder and editor-in-chief of Car Dealer Magazine, and CEO of parent company Baize Group. James has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years writing about cars and the car industry.

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