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February 23, 2021

Covid roadmap: what it means for UK automotive

By chris lemmon

Prime minister Boris Johnson has unveiled the government’s roadmap for easing Covid restrictions in England, which culminates in all restrictions being lifted by 21 June at the earliest.

In terms of what it means for automotive, motor dealers will have to wait until 12 April before showroom doors can open – a decision which has been met with disappointment across the industry.

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), acknowledged that while the priority must be to get the virus under control, the roadmap is disappointing given showroom facilities are large Covid-secure premises with low footfall.

Hawes said: “Whilst Click & 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.

“Unfortunately, the continuing decline in retail business will translate into reduced production volumes as well as giving rise to other operational issues. We look to Government to work with the sector to provide ongoing support and clarity so the industry can plan its re-opening and recovery.”

Expressing a similar sentiment, Sue Robinson, chief executive of the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA), highlighted that the motor industry was one of the first to work with the government to develop guidelines to enable a safe return to work.

“Dealerships can operate effectively by appointment and take all necessary steps such as measuring customers’ temperature when they enter the premises, wearing masks, working behind protective screens, as well as sanitising cars and keys.

“Franchised dealers have demonstrated their resilience and ability to adapt, providing online sales and Click & Collect services. However, these are not enough to sustain businesses this year nor to fully satisfy consumer demand, especially with the upcoming plate change in March.  Dealerships could reopen safely and immediately.”

During the first lockdown, car showrooms were allowed to open on 1 June, two weeks ahead of other ‘non-essential’ retail stores.

In Scotland, new guidance has confirmed that “accessing the showroom to conclude he purchasing of the vehicle would be permissible at this time using an appointment system to manage customer numbers to as few in the showroom at any given time”.

Jamie Hepburn, Scottish minister for business, fair work and skills, said: “As much of the purchase as possible should be completed online or by phone to ensure as little time as possible is spent in the showroom. What is not permissible is for potential customers to come into the showroom to browse and to stay for any longer than is absolutely necessary to complete the purchase.”

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