Government in talks to reopen car dealers this month

4th May 2020 | John

Autocar – 2nd May 2020

Car industry executives have been discussing with the government today whether car dealerships can be in the first wave of non-essential business allowed to open once lockdown eases, due to their economic importance to the UK, Autocar can reveal.

It’s thought that 11 May could be the earliest possible date. However, the government has outlined that it must hit five key metrics before it can lift restrictions, meaning potential opening dates remain fluid.

Autocar sources confirmed the meeting today, which was attended by the government and selected car makers and dealers. Key industry bodies the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) and National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA) were also present.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said earlier this week: “If demand [for cars] is weak and the speed at which production lines are able to ramp up is constrained, this hit could be even worse, so industry needs government support and coordination to implement a clear restart plan for all, including the reopening of retailers in the first phase of easing the lockdown.”

The move is seen as crucial to save car retailers – which collectively employ more than 500,000 people and have an annual UK retail turnover of around £200 billion, according to the NFDA. Even more importantly, such a move will start turning the wheels of the entire industry, including – crucially – UK car manufacturing plants. Recent research published by the SMMT estimated a loss of £8.2bn to the industry from plant closures beginning in March and ending mid-May.

So far, some manufacturers – incldugin Jaguar Land Rover, Rolls-Royce and Bentley – have confirmed that they will reconvene production, at a significantly lower rate, from early May. Meanwhile, Nissan has said it won’t start building cars again at its Sunderland plant until June.

The government already confirmed last week that dealerships can sell cars online and deliver new vehicles so long as they obey all social distancing rules.

Despite the fact that car makers were already continuing to sell cars online, the government’s clear statement had a clear impact on interest from car buyers. Web traffic to reviews on this website instantly picked up and dealer sources told us they were quickly considering how to remove staff from furlough.

The finer details of dealerships reopening aren’t yet clear, but it’s inevitable that car retailers will need to fulfil strict social distancing guidelines as well as meet especially high levels of hygiene.

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