Welsh 17-day ‘firebreak’ lockdown had ‘devastating’ impact on car dealers with sales crawling to a halt

Time 11 months ago

Wales’s ‘firebreak’ lockdown had a ‘devastating’ effect on car sales, one business has told Car Dealer.

The 17-day Welsh lockdown came to an end on November 9 and was replaced with a raft of restrictions to carry on kerbing the spread of coronavirus.

Speaking on November 9, first minister Mark Drakeford said the national Welsh infection level had now dropped from 250 cases per 100,000 people to just under 220 cases – and stressed it was ‘vital’ people continued to work from home.

‘We won’t know the full impact for a couple of weeks yet but there are some tentative early positive signs, and those give us some hope,’ he told a press briefing.

However, while early signs suggest the impact of the lockdown was ‘positive’, it has had a crippling impact on car dealers.

Showrooms had to close for the entire 17-day lockdown and people were told to stay at home and only make essential journeys.

Dealers were also confused about the level of business they could carry out during the Welsh lockdown.

With dealerships spread across Wales and the south-west of England, Wessex Garages has born the brunt of two very different lockdowns in Wales and England.

I am estimating a drop of around 20 per cent in our aftersales turnover the majority of which was lost in November.

MD Chris Wiseman says the shutdown and confusion surrounding click-and-collect has left its mark on the dealer group, which holds franchises for Mazda, Kia, Nissan and Renault among others.

Turnover in its aftersales business could be down as much as 20 per cent.

‘Our Welsh business saw a significant decline during the firebreak as the restrictions were a lot more severe than those introduced this time in England, with no clear direction on a ‘click and collect’ model and customers told to delay routine servicing,’ Wiseman told Car Dealer.

‘A large percentage of our business is Motability and we are accommodating more collection and deliveries through the service departments.

‘I am estimating a drop in around 20 per cent in our aftersales turnover the majority of which was lost in November.’

Wiseman said that while new and used car enquiry rates dropped, Wessex saw customers leaving deposits and re-booking test drives from November 9.

‘I am relatively confident that we will be able to recover some, but not all of the lost opportunity,’ he said.

‘With our English showrooms now closed, we are operating our click-and-collect model from one location utilising our Online Navigators to take all phone sales, phone calls as well as online enquiries.

‘Early indications are very positive.’

Richard Hughes, boss of White Dove Motor Group, which has dealerships in Cardiff, called the lockdown ‘disastrous’ for the company, and slammed the restrictions as ‘draconian’.

‘As you could imagine it had a devastating effect,’ he told Car Dealer. ‘The first week sales were down 60 per cent.

‘We were one of a few with a complementary digital offering and sales staff operating from our various closed showrooms.

‘The second week was even more of a disaster with sales down 95 per cent!’

Hughes said its aftersales business had ‘held up’ but future bookings are ‘poor’.

Dealers have the opportunity of click-and-collect, which used professionally is a great advantage to full-on shutdown

‘I personally don’t think the English and Scottish dealers will have anything as dire as that,’ he said. ‘The lockdown in Wales was a full on ‘don’t go out of your house’ one. And no businesses whatsoever was open.

‘Walking around south west London, where I live, last weekend and most pubs and restaurants were open for takeaway. Most shops were open offering click-and-collect, and there lots of people were out and about. A totally different world to the draconian rules Wales had to go through.’

Hughes added: ‘We stuck our necks out to work on our own database and create renewal appointments for when we open, but the last two weeks will certainly take the edge off our November accounts.

‘I really do hope confidence and interest is positive in the rest of the UK. Dealers have the opportunity of click-and-collect, which used professionally is a great advantage to full-on shutdown. And having no real travel restrictions should also be beneficial.’

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The two dealers’ views are backed up by the SMMT, which said total UK new car registrations in October suffered because of the Welsh lockdown.

The body said the ‘firebreak’ contributed to the nation recording 25.5 per cent fewer registrations by the end of the month. That in turn accounted for more than half of the overall UK decline.

October’s new car registrations, including the ‘firebreak’ lockdown were discussed in a special Car Dealer Live which you can watch at the top of this story

James Batchelor's avatar

James – or Batch as he’s known – started at Car Dealer in 2010, first as the work experience boy, eventually becoming editor in 2013. He worked for Auto Express as editor-at-large and was the face of Carbuyer’s YouTube reviews. In 2020, he went freelance and now writes for a number of national titles and contributes regularly to Car Dealer.

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