The latest government guidelines – issued on May 11 as part of its recovery strategy – said that non-essential retail will be allowed to happen in phases in England from June 1.
This would be when and where it’s safe to do so and subject to those retailers being able to follow the new Covid-19 Secure guidelines.
And the crucial parts in that statement above are the words ‘phases’ and ‘from June 1’.
The automotive industry is still waiting for further guidance on the approach that will be taken to this phasing, including which businesses will be covered in each phase and the timeframes involved.
While there is a lot of hope that car dealers will be included in that first wave, there’s been no official word yet.
At the moment, car showrooms are named in the section for retail that has to remain closed until AT LEAST then.
But – and it’s a big but – they ARE being allowed to operate click-and-collect services during this time. Customers can’t enter the premises but staff can be present.
Most, if not all, car dealers are now preparing to open on June 1 – unwilling to be caught out by any last-minute go-ahead.
Staff and customer safety is, of course, paramount, so it’s likely that they won’t fully reopen for a while, even if June 1 is given the official go-ahead.
Speaking on Car Dealer Live today (May 19), Hendy boss Paul Hendy said they’d heard nothing to the contrary about June 1, but likewise they’d heard nothing confirming it.
He said: ‘We are preparing and readying ourselves for June 1. There’s obviously lots to do in terms of preparing forecourts, cleaning cars. moving vehicles around, etc, so we will carry on as if June 1 is the date.’
But he added: ‘Of course, that’s for England. Our dealer colleagues in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland may have alternative dates.’
However, Hendy said he really hoped that June 1 would be the big day.
He added: ‘We all know showrooms are, in the main, a big physical space and they can be made bigger by removing vehicles to create enough distancing. We can of course manage the number of people across the threshold.’
He pointed out that the public were now used to this way of entering buildings and waiting their turn, as the same procedures had been brought in elsewhere.
‘We’re a big part of the fabric of the UK and business, aren’t we? We need to get running again. It’s crucial.’
Staff will have to be unfurloughed for showrooms to open and Sherwoods Motor Group MD Simon MacConachie made a valid point on Car Dealer Live on May 14 when he said he’d rather stay closed or operating at a low level than go back too soon.
Meanwhile, Wessex Garages MD Chris Wiseman told Car Dealer Live on May 12 that he saw no reason why they wouldn’t open on June 1, government permitting. They’ve been ramping up health and safety measures in readiness for it.
And Renault Groupe UK MD Vincent Tourette said on Car Dealer Live on May 11 that the group was, in fact, ready to reopen already.
SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said earlier this month: ‘Reopening car showrooms is a crucial next step in rebooting the wider industry, helping to support the UK’s economic recovery.’
The guidance is for England only, too, which is muddying the waters further.
The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will decide for themselves when to give the go-ahead.
What will be a major factor is the rate of infection, as it may be different in different parts of the UK, so the government’s guidance has to be considered alongside public health and safety requirements for the different nations.
One thing’s for sure – the industry is raring to go to meet the undoubted pent-up demand, but whether June 1 will be the date they’re allowed to reopen remains to be seen.
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