Why are car dealerships not allowed to stay open during second lockdown yet garden centres are?

Time 11 months ago

Car dealers and industry trade bodies have been left flabbergasted that garden centres will be allowed to stay open while car dealerships must close during the second lockdown.

Industry bodies have written to the prime minister to explain how car dealerships have managed to operate in a Covid secure way since the reopening in June.

The National Franchised Dealers Association has written to the government twice this weekend – firstly to ask the PM not to include dealers in any lockdown yesterday, and today to ask them to be excluded.

Non-essential retail will be forced to close at 00.01 on Thursday with car dealerships closing their doors until December 2 at least.

Car dealers have spent millions opening dealerships in a Covid secure way with many operating in large units where social distancing is easy to achieve.

Dealer group bosses – including Daksh Gupta of Marshall Motor Group and Robert Forrester of Vertu Motors – have both taken to Twitter this weekend to express their dissatisfaction that garden centres can stay open, yet car dealers cannot.

Gupta tweeted from a garden centre asking why they can remain open yet car showrooms that have more space and less visitors cannot.

Forrester said on social media that he will be ‘finalising his lockdown plans today in a long call’ and ‘does not expect the disruption to end on December 2.

He also tweeted about garden centres yesterday.

The NFDA said in a letter to the PM that there was ‘no evidence’ that keeping dealers open would increase transmission of the virus.

From Thursday dealers will be forced to revert to home deliveries or click and collect sales where the sale has taken place fully online and the collection is made at the dealership.

This isn’t easy for all dealers and especially hard to scale for the big dealer groups.

The NFDA letter said: ‘Shutting down vehicle showrooms will not only damage the livelihoods of the 590,000 people employed in vehicle retail. 

‘It will reduce car sales to the point where the car factories will have to stop production, impacting the 168,000 people employed in vehicle manufacturing. 

‘It will make it harder for emergency workers to obtain the vehicles they need to go to work.’

The trade body pointed to the fact that the German lockdown allows dealers to continue to operate.

‘We would like the British government to show the same good judgement,’ said the NFDA. 

Cabinet minister Michael Gove has already refused to rule out an extension to the lockdown in interviews today if infection rates do not fall significantly.

You can see what he said on the Andrew Marr Show below.

Mike Hawes, the SMMT chief executive, also took to Twitter calling the government to keep car showrooms open.

SW Car Supermarket director John Marshall told Car Dealer it was disappointing to take ‘one step forward and then two back’.

He added: ‘Industry, and particularly retail, will undoubtedly suffer massive losses that they can ill afford at this time of year and the motor trade is no exception.’

The used car supermarket boss said his team will attempt to ‘click and collect our way through this’.

While car dealers have enjoyed a bumper few months of car sales – especially in the used departments – facing another full shutdown will be a huge set back.

Dealers are already preparing to use the extended furlough scheme extensively once again, something one dealer boss described to Car Dealer as a ‘lifeline’.

It was due to end yesterday, but has been extended for the period of the second lockdown.

It is still unclear just how much of the service and repair side of dealer businesses will be able to say open.

Garages and service departments are classed as ‘essential’ by the government, but a drop in trade could make it hard for all of them to remain open.

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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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