On April 12, 2021, car dealerships were permitted to reopen their doors with safety precautions in place and welcome back customers for the first time in over three long months.
Like other ‘non-essential’ retailers across Britain, motor trade showrooms had previously been closed since January 5, 2021, under national lockdown restrictions.
During that period, car dealers were limited to online click-and-collect or click-and-deliver sales, but now the recent restrictions have been eased, they will need to change the way they operate once again.
Chief Executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), Mikes Hawes, said, ‘While click-and-collect has helped the sector survive, it cannot replace the experience of choosing and test driving a new car in person.’
Dealership staff and customers must wear a face covering unless they are exempt and adhere to social distancing rules. Above and beyond these low-level restrictions, revised safety guidelines from the SMMT and the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA) include booking appointments for sales and aftersales to prevent high footfall overcrowding showrooms, and only using electronic payment methods like digital paperwork and signatures where possible.
Chief Executive of the NFDA, Sue Robinson, said, ‘Opening showrooms will allow the economy to get moving again. With confidence in public transport safety at a 20-year low, private transportation will play an essential role in enabling people to return to their daily lives.’
Like all employers, motor trade professionals have a legal obligation to protect their staff and customers from health and safety risks, including Covid-19.
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Consequently, they need to perform a comprehensive risk assessment, taking into account the latest developments from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) to make their showrooms Covid-secure.
Even so, few, if any motor traders, are experts in the field of health and safety, so they may need request guidance from a reputable motor trade insurance provider with regard to an insurance policy that covers all the risks they will face.
The return of consumers buying both new and used cars in-person at showrooms can only be good news for the British motor trade industry, which despite its best efforts, saw sales fall by over 45% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2021 due to the latest national lockdown restrictions.
In fact, February 2021 was the worst February since 1959, with just 51,312 new cars registered throughout the country. Mike Hawes (SMMT) commented, ‘February is traditionally a small month for car registrations and with showrooms closed for the duration, the decline is deeply disappointing, but expected.’
The SMMT now predicts a surge in demand for new cars, not least because of the introduction of the new 21-plate in March, however, forecasts and estimates suggest five new cars will need to be sold every minute for the rest of the year to compensate for the shortfall to date.
Mr Hawes added, ‘More concerning, however, is that these closures have stifled dealers’ preparations for March with the expectation that this will now be a third successive dismal ‘new plate month’.